A negative feedback loop between microRNA-378 and Nrf1 promotes the development of hepatosteatosis in mice treated with a high fat diet

Tianpeng Zhang, Xiaoling Zhao, Clifford J. Steer, Guiqin Yan, Guisheng Song

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Backgrounds: The incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is rapidly increasing due to the prevalence of obesity. NAFLD is a major risk factor of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Even with successful surgical removal, the presence of NAFLD is associated with an increased recurrence of HCC. Despite the extensive study of NAFLD, its underlying mechanism(s) remains essentially unknown and there are no FDA-approved drugs for its treatment. Alterations in microRNA (miR) expression have been observed in human fatty livers. However, regulatory mechanism(s) of miRNA biogenesis and their role in regulating the development of NAFLD is poorly described. Methods: We used immunohistochemistry, luciferase assays and immunoblotting to study the regulatory mechanism of miR-378 biogenesis. Wild-type mice kept on a high fat diet (HFD) were injected with miR-378 inhibitors or a mini-circle expression system containing miR-378 to study loss and gain-of functions of miR-378. Results: miR-378 was significantly increased in fatty livers of dietary obese mice and human hepatoma HepG2 cells with accumulated lipid. Further studies identified NRF1 (Nuclear receptor factor 1), a key regulator of fatty acid oxidation (FAO), as a direct target of miR-378. Overexpression of miR-378 impaired FAO and promoted lipid accumulation in murine hepatoma Hepa1-6 cells. In contrast, knockdown of miR-378 using its ASO (anti-sense oligo) improved FAO and reduced intracellular lipid content in Hepa1-6 cells. Liver-specific expression of miR-378 impaired FAO, which subsequently promoted the development of hepatosteatosis. Antagonizing miR-378 via injecting miR-378-ASO into HFD-treated mice led to increased expression of Nrf1, improved FAO and decreased hepatosteatosis. Additional knockdown of up-regulated Nrf1 offset the effects of miR-378-ASO, suggesting that Nrf1 mediated the inhibitory effect of miR-378-ASO on hepatosteatosis. Furthermore, Nrf1 was identified as a transcriptional repressor of miR-378. Ablation of Nrf1 using its shRNA in livers led to increased miR-378, which subsequently resulted in reduced FAO and elevated hepatic lipid content. Conclusions: These findings identified a negative feedback loop between miR-378 and Nrf1 that promotes the pathogenesis of hepatosteatosis, and suggests the use of miR-378 as a potential therapeutic target for NAFLD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-191
Number of pages9
JournalMetabolism: clinical and experimental
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was in part supported by the National Institutes of Health ( R01 DK102601 , G.S.) and Research Scholar Grant ( ISG-16-210-01-RMC , G.S) from the American Cancer Society .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors


  • Fatty acid oxidation
  • Hepatosteatosis
  • MicroRNA
  • Transcription regulation


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