Butyrate Protects against Diet-Induced NASH and Liver Fibrosis and Suppresses Specific Non-Canonical TGF-β Signaling Pathways in Human Hepatic Stellate Cells

Eveline Gart*, Wim van Duyvenvoorde, Karin Toet, Martien P.M. Caspers, Lars Verschuren, Mette Juul Nielsen, Diana Julie Leeming, Everton Souto Lima, Aswin Menke, Roeland Hanemaaijer, Jaap Keijer, Kanita Salic, Robert Kleemann, Martine C. Morrison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


In obesity-associated non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), persistent hepatocellular damage and inflammation are key drivers of fibrosis, which is the main determinant of NASH-associated mortality. The short-chain fatty acid butyrate can exert metabolic improvements and anti-inflammatory activities in NASH. However, its effects on NASH-associated liver fibrosis remain unclear. Putative antifibrotic effects of butyrate were studied in Ldlr-/-.Leiden mice fed an obeso-genic diet (HFD) containing 2.5% (w/w) butyrate for 38 weeks and compared with a HFD-control group. Antifibrotic mechanisms of butyrate were further investigated in TGF-β-stimulated primary human hepatic stellate cells (HSC). HFD-fed mice developed obesity, insulin resistance, increased plasma leptin levels, adipose tissue inflammation, gut permeability, dysbiosis, and NASH-associated fibrosis. Butyrate corrected hyperinsulinemia, lowered plasma leptin levels, and attenuated adipose tissue inflammation, without affecting gut permeability or microbiota composition. Butyrate lowered plasma ALT and CK-18M30 levels and attenuated hepatic steatosis and inflammation. Butyrate inhibited fibrosis development as demonstrated by decreased hepatic collagen content and Sirius-red-positive area. In TGF-β-stimulated HSC, butyrate dose-dependently reduced collagen deposition and decreased procollagen1α1 and PAI1 protein expression. Transcriptomic analysis and subsequent pathway and upstream regulator analysis revealed deactivation of specific non-canonical TGF-β signaling pathways Rho-like GTPases and PI3K/AKT and other important pro-fibrotic regulators (e.g., YAP/TAZ, MYC) by butyrate, providing a potential rationale for its antifibrotic effects. In conclusion, butyrate protects against obesity development, insulin resistance-associated NASH, and liver fibrosis. These antifibrotic effects are at least partly attributable to a direct effect of butyrate on collagen production in hepatic stellate cells, involving inhibition of non-canonical TGF-β signaling pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1954
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Adipose tissue inflammation
  • Butyrate
  • Collagen
  • Gut
  • Hepatic stellate cells
  • Liver fibrosis
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis
  • Obesity


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