Statins Stop Mice from Developing Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease, a Mitochondrial Ailment

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by Chris Comish |

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NASH and statin study

A new study from Korea indicated that statins could be a possible treatment for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a form of liver disease. The report, Statins Increase Mitochondrial and Peroxisomal Fatty Acid Oxidation in the Liver and Prevent Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis in Mice appeared on April 21 in the Diabetes and Metabolism Journal.

NASH, the most common type of chronic liver disease in industrialized nations, can be caused by mitochondrial and peroxisomal dysfunction. Mitochondria and peroxisomes are organelles found in cells, which can be damaged in various diseases. NASH cannot be cured, but treatments such as statins can help. Although a liver disease, it occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol and can lead to cirrhosis.

The researchers studied 7-week-old mice that were fed either regular mouse food or a methionine- and choline-deficient diet, with or without various statins. Depriving mice of methionine and choline causes liver damage similar to what is observed in people with NASH. The statins included fluvastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin, atorvastatin, and rosuvastatin, and were given for six weeks. The researchers examined the livers using standard laboratory procedures for staining tissues, looking at damaged cells. They also measured mitochondrial and peroxisomal function using a “fatty acid oxidation” test.

The team found that the statins prevented NASH caused by the methionine- and choline-deficient diet. The liver tissue had substantially fewer signs of inflammation and fibrosis in animals that received statins compared to animals not given statins. There was also increased mitochondrial and peroxisomal fatty acid oxidation, showing that the mitochondria were not being damaged. The statins appeared to act by increasing gene expression of a molecule called peroxisomal proliferator-activated receptor (PPARα).

In their study report, the researchers said, “Statins prevented NASH and increased mitochondrial and peroxisomal [fatty acid oxidation] via induction of PPARα. … improvement of peroxisomal function by statins may contribute to the prevention of NASH.”

Statins could be a good treatment for those at risk for NASH, as it may act to improve the function of mitochondria and peroxisomes. However, to realize the potential of statins in NASH treatment, scientists will need to perform further studies in humans.

Mitochondria are the cell’s power supply, generating energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Diseases that affect mitochondria can lead to a variety of problems. Mitochondrial diseases are inherited or chronic illnesses, and they can occur either at birth or may develop later. Peroxisomes are important organelles that are found at very high concentrations in both the liver and kidney. They help perform oxidative reactions, important chemical reactions that occur in cells.