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Research Article

Molecular and cellular aspects of iron-induced hepatic cirrhosis in rodents.

A Pietrangelo, R Gualdi, G Casalgrandi, G Montosi and E Ventura

Department of Internal Medicine, University of Modena, Italy.

Published April 1995

Hepatic fibrosis and cirrhosis are common findings in humans with hemochromatosis. In this study we investigated the molecular pathways of iron-induced hepatic fibrosis and evaluated the anti-fibrogenic effect of vitamin E. Male gerbils were treated with iron-dextran and fed a standard diet or a alpha-tocopherol enriched diet (250 mg/Kg diet). In gerbils on the standard diet at 6 wk after dosing with iron, in situ hybridization analysis documented a dramatic increase of signal for collagen mRNA around iron foci onto liver fat storing cells (FSC), as identified by immunocytochemistry with desmin antibody. After 4 mo, micronodular cirrhosis developed in these animals, with nonparenchymal cells surrounding hepatocyte nodules and expressing high level of TGF beta mRNA. In this group, in vivo labeling with [3H]-thymidine showed a marked proliferation of nonparenchymal cells, including FSC. In iron-dosed gerbils on the vitamin E-enriched diet for 4 mo, in spite of a severe liver iron burden, a normal lobular architecture was found, with a dramatic decrease of collagen mRNA accumulation and collagen deposition. At the molecular level, a total suppression of nonparenchymal cell proliferation was appreciable, although expression of collagen and TGF beta mRNAs was still present into microscopic iron-filled nonparenchymal cell aggregates scattered throughout the hepatic lobule. In conclusion, our study shows that anti-oxidant treatment during experimental hepatic fibrosis arrests fibrogenesis and completely prevents iron induced hepatic cirrhosis mainly through inhibition of nonparenchymal cell proliferation induced by iron.

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