ASMase regulates autophagy and lysosomal membrane permeabilization and its inhibition prevents early stage non-alcoholic steatohepatitis

Raquel Fucho, Laura Martínez, Anna Baulies, Sandra Torres, Nuria Tarrats, Anna Fernandez, Vicente Ribas, Alma M. Astudillo, Jesús Balsinde, Pablo Garcia-Rovés, Montserrat Elena, Ina Bergheim, Sophie Lotersztajn, Christian Trautwein, Hanna Appelqvist, Adrienne W. Paton, James C. Paton, Mark J. Czaja, Neil Kaplowitz, Jose C. Fernandez-ChecaCarmen García-Ruiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Background & Aims: Acid sphingomyelinase (ASMase) is activated in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). However, the contribution of ASMase to NASH is poorly understood and limited to hepatic steatosis and glucose metabolism. Here we examined the role of ASMase in high fat diet (HFD)-induced NASH. Methods: Autophagy, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP) were determined in ASMase-/- mice fed a HFD. The impact of pharmacological ASMase inhibition on NASH was analyzed in wild type mice fed a HFD. Results: ASMase deficiency determined resistance to hepatic steatosis mediated by a HFD or methionine-choline deficient diet. ASMase-/- mice were resistant to HFD-induced hepatic ER stress, but sensitive to tunicamycin-mediated ER stress, indicating selectivity in the resistance of ASMase-/- mice to ER stress and steatosis. Autophagic flux, determined in the presence of rapamycin and/or chloroquine, was lower in primary mouse hepatocytes (PMH) from ASMase-/- mice and accompanied by increased p62 levels, suggesting autophagic impairment. Moreover, autophagy suppression by chloroquine and brefeldin A caused ER stress in PMH from ASMase+/+ mice but not in ASMase-/- mice. ASMase-/- PMH exhibited increased lysosomal cholesterol loading, decreased LMP and apoptosis resistance induced by O-methylserine dodecylamide hydrochloride or palmitic acid, effects that were reversed by decreasing cholesterol levels by oxysterol 25- hydroxycholesterol. In vivo pharmacological ASMase inhibition by amitriptyline, a widely used tricyclic antidepressant, protected wild type mice against HFD-induced hepatic steatosis, fibrosis, and liver damage, effects indicative of early-stage NASH. Conclusions: These findings underscore a critical role for ASMase in diet-induced NASH and suggest the potential of amitriptyline as a treatment for patients with NASH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1126-1134
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014


  • Autophagy
  • Ceramide
  • Endoplasmic reticulum stress
  • Fatty liver
  • Lysosomal membrane permeabilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology


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