Hepatocyte Smoothened Activity Controls Susceptibility to Insulin Resistance and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.

Conference Paper

Background & aims

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a leading cause of cirrhosis, strongly associates with the metabolic syndrome, an insulin-resistant proinflammatory state that disrupts energy balance and promotes progressive liver degeneration. We aimed to define the role of Smoothened (Smo), an obligatory component of the Hedgehog signaling pathway, in controlling hepatocyte metabolic homeostasis and, thereby, susceptibility to NASH.


We conditionally deleted Smo in hepatocytes of healthy chow-fed mice and performed metabolic phenotyping, coupled with single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), to characterize the role of hepatocyte Smo in regulating basal hepatic and systemic metabolic homeostasis. Liver RNA-seq datasets from 2 large human cohorts were also analyzed to define the relationship between Smo and NASH susceptibility in people.


Hepatocyte Smo deletion inhibited the Hedgehog pathway and promoted fatty liver, hyperinsulinemia, and insulin resistance. We identified a plausible mechanism whereby inactivation of Smo stimulated the mTORC1-SREBP1c signaling axis, which promoted lipogenesis while inhibiting the hepatic insulin cascade. Transcriptomics of bulk and single Smo-deficient hepatocytes supported suppression of insulin signaling and also revealed molecular abnormalities associated with oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. Analysis of human bulk RNA-seq data revealed that Smo expression was (1) highest in healthy livers, (2) lower in livers with NASH than in those with simple steatosis, (3) negatively correlated with markers of insulin resistance and liver injury, and (4) declined progressively as fibrosis severity worsened.


The Hedgehog pathway controls insulin sensitivity and energy homeostasis in adult livers. Loss of hepatocyte Hedgehog activity induces hepatic and systemic metabolic stress and enhances susceptibility to NASH by promoting hepatic lipoxicity and insulin resistance.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Chen, T; Dalton, G; Oh, S-H; Maeso-Diaz, R; Du, K; Meyers, RA; Guy, C; Abdelmalek, MF; Henao, R; Guarnieri, P; Pullen, SS; Gregory, S; Locker, J; Brown, JM; Diehl, AM

Published Date

  • January 2023

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 15 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 949 - 970

PubMed ID

  • 36535507

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC9957752

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2352-345X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2352-345X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jcmgh.2022.12.008