Alpha-1-antitrypsin (a1AT) deficiency is caused by homozygosity for the a1AT mutant Z gene and occurs in one in 2000 Americans. The Z mutation confers an abnormal conformation on the a1AT mutant Z protein, resulting in accumulation within the endoplasmic reticulum of hepatocytes and chronic liver injury. Autophagy is one of several proteolytic mechanisms activated to cope with this hepatocellular protein burden, and is likely important in disposal of the unique polymerized conformation of the a1AT mutant Z protein, which is thought to be especially injurious to the cell. Recent data indicate that rapamycin may more efficiently upregulate autophagy when given in weekly dose pulses, as compared with a daily regimen. Therefore, we evaluated the effect of rapamycin on PiZ mice, a well-characterized model which recapitulates human a1AT liver disease. Daily dosing had no effect on autophagy, on accumulation of a1AT mutant Z protein or on liver injury. Weekly dosing of rapamycin did increase autophagic activity, as shown by increased numbers of autophagic vacuoles. This was associated with reduction in the intrahepatic accumulation of a1AT mutant Z protein in the polymerized conformation. Markers of hepatocellular injury, including cleavage of caspase 12 and hepatic fibrosis, were also decreased. In conclusion, this is the first report of a successful in vivo method for reduction of intrahepatic a1AT mutant Z polymerized protein. Application of this finding may be therapeutic in patients with a1AT deficiency by reducing the intracellular burden of the polymerized, mutant Z protein and by reducing the progression of liver injury.
- Caspase 12
- Endoplasmic reticulum