Protective effect of quercetin on high-fat diet-induced non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in mice is mediated by modulating intestinal microbiota imbalance and related gut-liver axis activation

David Porras, Esther Nistal, Susana Martínez-Flórez, Sandra Pisonero-Vaquero, José Luis Olcoz, Ramiro Jover, Javier González-Gallego, María Victoria García-Mediavilla, Sonia Sánchez-Campos
Free Radical Biology & Medicine 2017, 102: 188-202
Gut microbiota is involved in obesity, metabolic syndrome and the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It has been recently suggested that the flavonoid quercetin may have the ability to modulate the intestinal microbiota composition, suggesting a prebiotic capacity which highlights a great therapeutic potential in NAFLD. The present study aims to investigate benefits of experimental treatment with quercetin on gut microbial balance and related gut-liver axis activation in a nutritional animal model of NAFLD associated to obesity. C57BL/6J mice were challenged with high fat diet (HFD) supplemented or not with quercetin for 16 weeks. HFD induced obesity, metabolic syndrome and the development of hepatic steatosis as main hepatic histological finding. Increased accumulation of intrahepatic lipids was associated with altered gene expression related to lipid metabolism, as a result of deregulation of their major modulators. Quercetin supplementation decreased insulin resistance and NAFLD activity score, by reducing the intrahepatic lipid accumulation through its ability to modulate lipid metabolism gene expression, cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1)-dependent lipoperoxidation and related lipotoxicity. Microbiota composition was determined via 16S ribosomal RNA Illumina next-generation sequencing. Metagenomic studies revealed HFD-dependent differences at phylum, class and genus levels leading to dysbiosis, characterized by an increase in Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio and in Gram-negative bacteria, and a dramatically increased detection of Helicobacter genus. Dysbiosis was accompanied by endotoxemia, intestinal barrier dysfunction and gut-liver axis alteration and subsequent inflammatory gene overexpression. Dysbiosis-mediated toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4)-NF-κB signaling pathway activation was associated with inflammasome initiation response and reticulum stress pathway induction. Quercetin reverted gut microbiota imbalance and related endotoxemia-mediated TLR-4 pathway induction, with subsequent inhibition of inflammasome response and reticulum stress pathway activation, leading to the blockage of lipid metabolism gene expression deregulation. Our results support the suitability of quercetin as a therapeutic approach for obesity-associated NAFLD via its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and prebiotic integrative response.

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