2023 journal article

The imprinted gene Zac1 regulates steatosis in developmental cadmium-induced nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Toxicological Sciences.

By: S. Riegl n, C. Starnes n, D. Jima n, M. Baptissart n, A. Diehl*, S. Belcher n, M. Cowley

author keywords: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; developmental toxicology; epigenetics; cadmium; genomic imprinting; developmental programming
Source: ORCID
Added: October 29, 2022

Cadmium (Cd) exposure in adulthood is associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), characterized by steatosis, inflammation, and fibrosis. The prevalence of NAFLD in children is increasing, suggesting a role for the developmental environment in programming susceptibility. However, the role of developmental Cd exposure in programming NAFLD and the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. We have proposed that imprinted genes are strong candidates for connecting the early life environment and later life disease. In support of this, we previously identified roles for the Imprinted Gene Network (IGN) and its regulator Zac1 in programming NAFLD in response to maternal metabolic dysfunction. Here, we test the hypothesis that developmental Cd exposure is sufficient to program NAFLD, and further, that this process is mediated by Zac1 and the IGN. Using mice, we show that developmental cadmium chloride (CdCl2) exposure leads to histological, biochemical, and molecular signatures of steatosis and fibrosis in juveniles. Transcriptomic analyses comparing livers of CdCl2-exposed and control mice show upregulation of Zac1 and the IGN coincident with disease presentation. Increased hepatic Zac1 expression is independent of promoter methylation and imprinting statuses. Finally, we show that over-expression of Zac1 in cultured hepatocytes is sufficient to induce lipid accumulation in a Pparγ-dependent manner and demonstrate direct binding of Zac1 to the Pparγ promoter. Our findings demonstrate that developmental Cd exposure is sufficient to program NAFLD in later life, and with our previous work, establish Zac1 and the IGN as key regulators of prosteatotic and profibrotic pathways, two of the major pathological hallmarks of NAFLD.