Hepatic inflammasome activation is considered a major contributor to liver fibrosis in NASH. Apoptosis signal–regulating kinase 1 (ASK1) is an apical mitogen-activated protein kinase that activates hepatic JNK and p38 to promote apoptosis, inflammation, and fibrosis. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether pharmacologic inhibition of ASK1 could attenuate hepatic fibrosis driven by inflammasome activation using gain-of-function NOD-like receptor protein 3 (Nlrp3) mutant mice. Tamoxifen-inducible Nlrp3 knock-in (Nlrp3A350V/+CreT-KI) mice and WT mice were administered either control chow diet or diet containing the selective ASK1 inhibitor GS-444217 for 6 weeks. Livers of Nlrp3-KI mice had increased inflammation, cell death, and fibrosis and increased phosphorylation of ASK1, p38, and c-Jun. GS-444217 reduced ASK1 pathway activation, liver cell death, and liver fibrosis. ASK1 inhibition resulted in a significant downregulation of genes involved in collagen production and extracellular matrix deposition, as well as in a reduced hepatic TNF-α expression. ASK1 inhibition also directly reduced LPS-induced gene expression of Collagen 1A1 (Col1a1) in hepatic stellate cells isolated from Nlrp3-KI mice. In conclusion, ASK1 inhibition reduced liver cell death and fibrosis downstream of inflammatory signaling induced by NLRP3. These data provide mechanistic insight into the antifibrotic mechanisms of ASK1 inhibition.
Susanne Schuster-Gaul, Lukas Jonathan Geisler, Matthew D. McGeough, Casey D. Johnson, Anna Zagorska, Li Li, Alexander Wree, Vivian Barry, Igor Mikaelian, Lily J. Jih, Bettina G. Papouchado, Grant Budas, Hal M. Hoffman, Ariel E. Feldstein