Biochemical factors in alcoholic liver disease

C S Lieber
Seminars in Liver Disease 1993, 13 (2): 136-53
Three decades of research in ethanol metabolism have established that alcohol is hepatotoxic not only because of secondary malnutrition, but also through metabolic disturbances associated with the oxidation of ethanol. Some of these alterations are due to redox changes produced by the NADH generated via the liver ADH pathway, which in turn affects the metabolism of lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, and purines. Exaggeration of the redox change by the relative hypoxia, which prevails physiologically in the perivenular zone, contributes to the exacerbation of the ethanol-induced lesions in zone III. Gastric ADH also explains first-pass metabolism by ethanol; its activity is low in alcoholics and in females and is decreased by some H2 blockers. In addition to ADH, ethanol can be oxidized by liver microsomes: studies over the last 20 years have culminated in the molecular elucidation of the ethanol-inducible cytochrome P450 (P4502E1) which contributes not only to ethanol metabolism and tolerance, but also to the selective hepatic perivenular toxicity of various xenobiotics. Their activation by P4502E1 now provides an understanding for the increased susceptibility of the heavy drinker to the toxicity of industrial solvents, anesthetic agents, commonly prescribed drugs, over-the-counter analgesics, chemical carcinogens, and even nutritional factors such as vitamin A. Ethanol causes not only vitamin A depletion, but it also enhances its hepatotoxicity. Furthermore, induction of the microsomal pathway contributes to increased acetaldehyde generation, with formation of protein adducts, resulting in antibody production, enzyme inactivation, decreased DNA repair; it is also associated with a striking impairment of the capacity of the liver to utilize oxygen. Moreover, acetaldehyde promotes GSH depletion, free-radical-mediated toxicity, and lipid peroxidation. In addition, acetaldehyde affects hepatic collagen synthesis; both in vivo (in our baboon model of alcoholic cirrhosis) and in vitro (in cultured myofibroblasts and lipocytes); ethanol and its metabolite acetaldehyde were found to increase collagen accumulation and mRNA levels for collagen. This new understanding may eventually improve therapy with drugs and nutrients. Encouraging results have been obtained with some "super" nutrients. On the one hand, SAMe, the active form of methionine, was found to attenuate the ethanol-induced depletion in SAMe and GSH and associated mitochondrial lesions. On the other hand, phosphatidylcholine, purified from polyunsaturated lecithin, was discovered to oppose the ethanol-induced fibrosis by decreasing the activation of lipocytes to transitional cells, and possibly also by stimulating collagenase activity, an effect for which dilinoleoylphosphatidylcholine, its major phospholipid species, was found to be responsible.

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