Obesity is a major risk factor for developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is the most common form of chronic liver disease and is closely associated with insulin resistance, ultimately leading to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. However, knowledge of the intracellular regulators of obesity-linked fatty liver disease remains incomplete. Here we showed that hepatic Rho-kinase 1 (ROCK1) drives obesity-induced steatosis in mice through stimulation of de novo lipogenesis. Mice lacking ROCK1 in the liver were resistant to diet-induced obesity owing to increased energy expenditure and thermogenic gene expression. Constitutive expression of hepatic ROCK1 was sufficient to promote adiposity, insulin resistance, and hepatic lipid accumulation in mice fed a high-fat diet. Correspondingly, liver-specific ROCK1 deletion prevented the development of severe hepatic steatosis and reduced hyperglycemia in obese diabetic (ob/ob) mice. Of pathophysiological significance, hepatic ROCK1 was markedly upregulated in humans with fatty liver disease and correlated with risk factors clustering around NAFLD and insulin resistance. Mechanistically, we found that hepatic ROCK1 suppresses AMPK activity and a ROCK1/AMPK pathway is necessary to mediate cannabinoid-induced lipogenesis in the liver. Furthermore, treatment with metformin, the most widely used antidiabetes drug, reduced hepatic lipid accumulation by inactivating ROCK1, resulting in activation of AMPK downstream signaling. Taken together, our findings establish a ROCK1/AMPK signaling axis that regulates de novo lipogenesis, providing a unique target for treating obesity-related metabolic disorders such as NAFLD.
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