Hepatic steatosis is characterized by the intracellular increase of free fatty acids (FFAs) in the form of triglycerides in hepatocytes. This hepatic adverse outcome can be caused by many factors, including exposure to drugs or environmental toxicants. Mechanistically, accumulation of lipids in the liver can take place via several mechanisms such as de novo synthesis and/or uptake of FFAs from serum via high fat content diets. De novo synthesis of FFAs within the liver is mediated by the liver X receptor (LXR), and their uptake into the liver is mediated through the pregnane X receptor (PXR). We investigated the impact of chemical exposure on FFAs hepatic content via activation of LXR and PXR by integrating chemical-specific physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) models with a quantitative toxicology systems (QTS) model of hepatic lipid homeostasis. Three known agonists of LXR and/or PXR were modeled: T0901317 (antagonist for both receptors), GW3965 (LXR only), and Rifampicin (PXR only). Model predictions showed that T0901317 caused the most FFAs build-up in the liver, followed by Rifampicin and then GW3965. These modeling results highlight the importance of PXR activation for serum FFAs uptake into the liver while suggesting that increased hepatic FAAs de novo synthesis alone may not be enough to cause appreciable accumulation of lipids in the liver under normal environmental exposure levels. Moreover, the overall PBPK-hepatic lipids quantitative model can be used to screen chemicals for their potential to cause in vivo hepatic lipid content buildup in view of their in vitro potential to activate the nuclear receptors and their exposure levels.
By Clara Bay, Hisham A. El-Masri