Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a dominant cause of chronic liver disease, but the exact mechanism of progression from simple steatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) remains unknown. Here, we investigated the role of exosomes in NAFLD progression. Exosomes were isolated from a human hepatoma cell line treated with palmitic acid (PA) and their miRNA profiles examined by microarray. The human hepatic stellate cell (HSC) line (LX-2) was then treated with exosome isolated from hepatocytes. Compared with controls, PA-treated hepatocytes displayed significantly increased CD36 and exosome production. The microarray analysis showed there to be distinctive miRNA expression patterns between exosomes from vehicle- and PA-treated hepatocytes. When LX-2 cells were cultured with exosomes from PA-treated hepatocytes, the expression of genes related to the development of fibrosis were significantly amplified compared to those treated with exosomes from vehicle-treated hepatocytes. In conclusion, PA treatment enhanced the production of exosomes in these hepatocytes and changed their exosomal miRNA profile. Moreover, exosomes derived from PA-treated hepatocytes caused an increase in the expression levels of fibrotic genes in HSCs. Therefore, exosomes may have important roles in the crosstalk between hepatocytes and HSCs in the progression from simple steatosis to NASH.
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