Inflammatory cell activation drives diverse cellular programming during hepatic diseases. Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) have recently been identified as important regulators of immunity and inflammation. In nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), HIF-1α is upregulated in hepatocytes, where it induces steatosis; however, the role of HIF-1α in macrophages under metabolic stress has not been explored. In this study, we found increased HIF-1α levels in hepatic macrophages in methionine-choline-deficient (MCD) diet-fed mice and in macrophages of patients with NASH compared with controls. The HIF-1α increase was concomitant with elevated levels of autophagy markers BNIP3, Beclin-1, LC3-II, and p62 in both mouse and human macrophages. LysMCre HIFdPAfl/fl mice, which have HIF-1α levels stabilized in macrophages, showed higher steatosis and liver inflammation compared with HIFdPAfl/fl mice on MCD diet. In vitro and ex vivo experiments reveal that saturated fatty acid, palmitic acid (PA), both induces HIF-1α and impairs autophagic flux in macrophages. Using small interfering RNA–mediated knock-down and overexpression of HIF-1α in macrophages, we demonstrated that PA impairs autophagy via HIF-1α. We found that HIF-1α mediates NF-κB activation and MCP-1 production and that HIF-1α—mediated impairment of macrophage autophagy increases IL-1β production, contributing to MCD diet-induced NASH. Conclusion: Palmitic acid impairs autophagy via HIF-1α activation in macrophages. HIF-1α and impaired autophagy are present in NASH in vivo in mouse macrophages and in human blood monocytes. We identified that HIF-1α activation and decreased autophagic flux stimulate inflammation in macrophages through upregulation of NF-κB activation. These results suggest that macrophage activation in NASH involves a complex interplay between HIF-1α and autophagy as these pathways promote proinflammatory overactivation in MCD diet-induced NASH.
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