Probing metabolic memory in the hepatic response to fasting

Merel Defour, Guido J.E.J. Hooiveld, Michel van Weeghel, Sander Kersten*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Tissues may respond differently to a particular stimulus if they have been previously exposed to that same stimulus. Here we tested the hypothesis that a strong metabolic stimulus such as fasting may influence the hepatic response to a subsequent fast and thus elicit a memory effect. Overnight fasting in mice significantly increased plasma free fatty acids, glycerol, β-hydroxybutyrate and liver triglycerides, and decreased plasma glucose, plasma triglycerides, and liver glycogen levels. In addition, fasting dramatically changed the liver transcriptome, upregulating genes involved in gluconeogenesis and in uptake, oxidation, storage, and mobilization of fatty acids, and downregulating genes involved in fatty acid synthesis, fatty acid elongation/desaturation, and cholesterol synthesis. Fasting also markedly impacted the liver metabolome, causing a decrease in the levels of numerous amino acids, glycolytic intermediated, TCA cycle intermediates, and nucleotides. However, these fasting-induced changes were unaffected by two previous overnight fasts. Also, no significant effect was observed of prior fasting on glucose tolerance. Finally, analysis of the effect of fasting on the transcriptome in hepatocyte humanized mouse livers indicated modest similarity in gene regulation in mouse and human liver cells. In general, genes involved in metabolic pathways were up- or downregulated to a lesser extent in human liver cells than mouse liver cells. In conclusion, we found that previous exposure to fasting in mice did not influence the hepatic response to a subsequent fast, arguing against the concept of metabolic memory in the liver. Our data provide a useful resource for the study of liver metabolism during fasting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-617
JournalPhysiological genomics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Fasting
  • Liver
  • Memory
  • Metabolism
  • Metabolomics
  • Transcriptomics


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