IL-6/STAT3 axis dictates the PNPLA3-mediated susceptibility to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Jiwoon Park, Yuanyuan Zhao, Fan Zhang, Shaoyan Zhang, Andrew C. Kwong, Yujie Zhang, Hans Heinrich Hoffmann, Leila Bushweller, Xin Wu, Alison W. Ashbrook, Branko Stefanovic, Shuyang Chen, Andrea D. Branch, Christopher E. Mason, Jae U. Jung, Charles M. Rice, Xianfang Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background & Aims: A number of genetic polymorphisms have been associated with susceptibility to or protection against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. Here, we focused on the rs738409 C>G single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), which produces the I148M variant of patatin-like phospholipase domain-containing protein 3 (PNPLA3) and is strongly associated with NAFLD. Methods: To enable mechanistic dissection, we developed a human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-derived multicellular liver culture by incorporating hPSC-derived hepatocytes, hepatic stellate cells, and macrophages. We first applied this liver culture to model NAFLD by utilising a lipotoxic milieu reflecting the circulating levels of disease risk factors in affected individuals. We then created an isogenic pair of liver cultures differing only at rs738049 and compared NAFLD phenotype development. Results: Our hPSC-derived liver culture recapitulated many key characteristics of NAFLD development and progression including lipid accumulation and oxidative stress, inflammatory response, and stellate cell activation. Under the lipotoxic conditions, the I148M variant caused the enhanced development of NAFLD phenotypes. These differences were associated with elevated IL-6/signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) activity in liver cultures, consistent with transcriptomic data of liver biopsies from individuals carrying the rs738409 SNP. Dampening IL-6/STAT3 activity alleviated the I148M-mediated susceptibility to NAFLD, whereas boosting it in wild-type liver cultures enhanced NAFLD development. Finally, we attributed this elevated IL-6/STAT3 activity in liver cultures carrying the rs738409 SNP to increased NF-κB activity. Conclusions: Our study thus reveals a potential causal link between elevated IL-6/STAT3 activity and 148M-mediated susceptibility to NAFLD. Impact and implications: An increasing number of genetic variants manifest in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) development and progression; however, the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. To study these variants in human-relevant systems, we developed an induced pluripotent stem cell-derived multicellular liver culture and focused on a common genetic variant (i.e. rs738409 in PNPLA3). Our findings not only provide mechanistic insight, but also a potential therapeutic strategy for NAFLD driven by this genetic variant in PNPLA3. Our liver culture is therefore a useful platform for exploring genetic variants in NAFLD development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-56
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • Disease modelling
  • Genetic variant
  • IL-6/STAT3 signalling
  • Liver culture
  • Multicellular culture
  • PNPLA3
  • Stem cells


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