Hepatocyte Death: A Clear and Present Danger

Harmeet Malhi, Maria Eugenia Guicciardi, Gregory J. Gores


The hepatocyte is especially vulnerable to injury due to its central role in xenobiotic metabolism including drugs and alcohol, participation in lipid and fatty acid metabolism, its unique role in the enterohepatic circulation of bile acids, the widespread prevalence of hepatotropic viruses, and its existence within a milieu of innate immune responding cells. Apoptosis and necrosis are the most widely recognized forms of hepatocyte cell death. The hepatocyte displays many unique features regarding cell death by apoptosis. It is quite susceptible to death receptor-mediated injury, and its death receptor signaling pathways involve the mitochondrial pathway for efficient cell killing. Also, death receptors can trigger lysosomal disruption in hepatocytes which further promote cell and tissue injury. Interestingly, hepatocytes are protected from cell death by only two anti-apoptotic proteins, Bcl-xL and Mcl-1, which have nonredundant functions. Endoplasmic reticulum stress or the unfolded protein response contributes to hepatocyte cell death during alterations of lipid and fatty acid metabolism. Finally, the current information implicating RIP kinases in necrosis provides an approach to more fully address this mode of cell death in hepatocyte injury. All of these processes contributing to hepatocyte injury are discussed in the context of potential therapeutic strategies.

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