Dr. Melanie Scott and colleagues publish a manuscript in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology, entitled, “Hepatocytes Are Resistant to Cell Death From Canonical and Non-Canonical Inflammasome-Activated Pyroptosis.” PLRC member, Dr. Timothy Billiar, also contributed to this manuscript.

Melanie Scott, MD, PhD
Timothy Billiar, MD


Background: Pyroptosis, gasdermin-mediated programmed cell death, is readily induced in macrophages by activation of the canonical inflammasome (caspase-1) or by intracellular lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-mediated non-canonical inflammasome (caspase-11) activation. However, whether pyroptosis is induced similarly in hepatocytes is still largely controversial but highly relevant to liver pathologies such as alcoholic/nonalcoholic liver disease, drug-induced liver injury, ischemia-reperfusion and liver transplant injury, or organ damage secondary to sepsis.

Methods and results: In this study we found that hepatocytes activate and cleave gasdermin-D (GSDMD) at low levels after treatment with LPS. Overexpression of caspase-1 or caspase-11 p10/p20 activated domains was able to induce typical GSDMD-dependent pyroptosis in hepatocytes both in vitro and in vivo. However, morphologic features of pyroptosis in macrophages (eg, pyroptotic bodies, cell flattening, loss of cell structure) did not occur in pyroptotic hepatocytes, with cell structure remaining relatively intact despite the cell membrane being breached. Our results suggest that hepatocytes activate pyroptosis pathways and cleave GSDMD, but this does not result in cell rupture and confer the same pyroptotic morphologic changes as previously reported in macrophages. This is true even with caspase-1 or caspase-11 artificial overexpression way above levels seen endogenously even after priming or in pathologic conditions.

Conclusions: Our novel findings characterize hepatocyte morphology in pyroptosis and suggest alternative use for canonical/non-canonical inflammasome activation/signaling and subsequent GSDMD cleavage because there is no rapid cell death as in macrophages. Improved understanding and recognition of the role of these pathways in hepatocytes may result in novel therapeutics for a range of liver diseases.