Organ Protection Mechanism May Treat Alcoholic Liver Disease

High expression of a specific protein found to protect against liver damage.

Overconsumption of alcohol can inflict damage on numerous organs, especially the liver. Chronic overconsumption can lead to the development of alcoholic liver disease, which is part of the reason why health experts recommend limiting alcohol intake.

The authors of a study published by Molecular Mechanism found that a protective response in the liver may be able to be harnessed to treat alcoholic liver disease. The findings also indicate that the same mechanism may be involved with aversion to alcohol and may present a treatment for alcohol use disorder, according to the study authors.

The study focused on the fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) protein. The authors previously found that this protein protected mice against diet-related liver toxicity.

“Looking at the relationship between alcohol-induced liver disease and FGF21 was the next step,” said co-senior author Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, MD.

In the new study, the authors found that patients who binged on alcohol more than 1 hour had a spike in FGF21 in their blood 6 hours later. Similar results were also observed in mice.

The authors discovered that binging on alcohol led to more liver damage in mice bred to lack FGF21 compared with wild-type mice. The genetically altered mice were also found to have increased expression of genes involved with liver inflammation and scarring, according to the study.

“We showed that alcohol consumption induces FGF21 as a protective response in the liver that reduces the degree of alcohol-induced damage,” Dr Maratos-Flier said. “Because humans and mice have similar responses, mice may be a good model for studying this further.”

Notably, alcohol was cleared normally in mice lacking FGF21, which suggests that the protein is not involved in alcohol metabolism, according to the study.

The researchers noted significantly decreased alcohol consumption among mice bred to overexpress FGF21. A similar effect was observed when wild-type mice were administered the enzyme, causing them to prefer water over alcohol, according to the study.

These findings indicate that FGF21 may play a significant role in alcohol metabolism, according to the study. The authors suggest that the increase in FGF21 may curb drinking, while also protecting against liver damage.

The authors report that further research includes tests on whether amplifying FGF21 expression can limit or even reverse liver damage and reduce alcohol preference, according to the study.

“Our results may encourage the development of drugs that mimic FGF21 for the treatment of alcoholic liver disease, and possibly to produce alcohol aversion,” Dr Maratos-Flier said.