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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the author’s final published version in EBioMedicine

Volume 13, November 2016, Pages 157-167.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.10.013. Copyright © Zhang et al.


The Western meat-rich diet is both high in protein and fat. Although the hazardous effect of a high fat diet (HFD) upon liver structure and function is well recognized, whether the co-presence of high protein intake contributes to, or protects against, HF-induced hepatic injury remains unclear. Increased intake of branched chain amino acids (BCAA, essential amino acids compromising 20% of total protein intake) reduces body weight. However, elevated circulating BCAA is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and injury. The mechanisms responsible for this quandary remain unknown; the role of BCAA in HF-induced liver injury is unclear. Utilizing HFD or HFD+BCAA models, we demonstrated BCAA supplementation attenuated HFD-induced weight gain, decreased fat mass, activated mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), inhibited hepatic lipogenic enzymes, and reduced hepatic triglyceride content. However, BCAA caused significant hepatic damage in HFD mice, evidenced by exacerbated hepatic oxidative stress, increased hepatic apoptosis, and elevated circulation hepatic enzymes. Compared to solely HFD-fed animals, plasma levels of free fatty acids (FFA) in the HFD+BCAA group are significantly further increased, due largely to AMPKα2-mediated adipocyte lipolysis. Lipolysis inhibition normalized plasma FFA levels, and improved insulin sensitivity. Surprisingly, blocking lipolysis failed to abolish BCAA-induced liver injury. Mechanistically, hepatic mTOR activation by BCAA inhibited lipid-induced hepatic autophagy, increased hepatic apoptosis, blocked hepatic FFA/triglyceride conversion, and increased hepatocyte susceptibility to FFA-mediated lipotoxicity. These data demonstrated that BCAA reduces HFD-induced body weight, at the expense of abnormal lipolysis and hyperlipidemia, causing hepatic lipotoxicity. Furthermore, BCAA directly exacerbate hepatic lipotoxicity by reducing lipogenesis and inhibiting autophagy in the hepatocyte.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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