Long-term treatment with the mPXR agonist PCN promotes hepatomegaly and lipid accumulation without hepatocyte proliferation in mice

Yi-fei Zhang1, Yue Gao1, Jie Yang1, Yi-ming Jiang1, Min Huang1, Shi-cheng Fan1,2, Hui-chang Bi1,2
1 Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of New Drug Design and Evaluation, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510006, China
2 NMPA Key Laboratory for Research and Evaluation of Drug Metabolism, Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of New Drug Screening, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou 510515, China
Correspondence to: Min Huang:, Shi-cheng Fan:, Hui-chang Bi:,
DOI: 10.1038/s41401-022-00925-3
Received: 1 March 2022
Accepted: 24 May 2022
Advance online: 30 June 2022


Pregnane X receptor (PXR) is highly expressed in the liver and plays a pivotal role in xenobiotic and endobiotic metabolism. We previously reported that PXR activation by its specific mouse agonist pregnenolone 16α-carbonitrile (PCN) significantly induces liver enlargement and lipid accumulation. However, the effect of long-term PCN treatment on PXR and mouse liver is still unknown. This study aimed to explore the influence of long-term administration of PCN on mouse liver and hepatic lipid homeostasis. Male C57BL/6 mice were injected intraperitoneally with PCN (100 mg/kg once a week) for 42 weeks. Serum and liver samples were collected for biochemical and histological analysis. PXR activation was investigated by Western blot. Ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with electrospray ionization high-resolution mass spectrometry (UHPLC-ESI-HRMS)-based lipidomics analysis was performed to explore the change in different lipid categories. The results showed that long-term treatment with PCN significantly promoted hepatomegaly without hepatocyte proliferation and enlargement. Long-term treatment with PCN did not upregulate PXR target proteins in mice, and there was no significant upregulation of CYP3A11, CYP2B10, UGT1A1, MRP2, or MRP4. Lipidomics analysis showed obvious hepatic lipid accumulation in the PCN-treated mice, and the most significant change was found in triglycerides (TGs). Additionally, long-term treatment with PCN had no risk for carcinogenesis. These findings demonstrated that long-term PCN treatment induces hepatomegaly and lipid accumulation without hepatocyte proliferation or enlargement.
Keywords: pregnane X receptor (PXR); agonist; PCN; hepatomegaly; lipidomics; triglyceride accumulation

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