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Zi Qi Decoction Alleviates Liver Fibrosis by Inhibiting the Toll-Like Receptor 4 (TLR4)-Related Nuclear Factor kappa b (NF-κB) and Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK) Signaling Pathways

Jingwen Zhou, Xiaolong Zhang, Lingfeng Wan, Jun Yu, Tianci Li, Ziyu Lu, Nanyuan Fang, Lixia Sun, Fang Ye

(Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Jiangsu Province Hospital of Chinese Medicine, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China (mainland))

Med Sci Monit 2021; 27:e929438

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.929438

BACKGROUND: Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) play a vital role in hepatic fibrogenesis. Our recent clinical study indicated that the Zi Qi decoction, a Traditional Chinese Medicine formula, exhibited good efficacy in alleviating liver fibrosis, but the underlying mechanism remains elusive.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: Rats repeatedly injected with CCl₄ and cells stimulated with lipopolysaccharide were used as in vivo and in vitro models for liver fibrosis, respectively. The viability of LX-2 cells was evaluated with MTT assay. Relative messenger RNA (mRNA) expression of representative extracellular matrix (ECM) components was detected with real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Moreover, total and phosphorylation levels of ECM proteins and pathway-related proteins were detected with western blotting. Immunofluorescent staining was used to show the nuclear translocation of nuclear factor kappa b (NF-kappaB) p65. Hematoxylin & eosin (H&E) and Masson trichrome staining and immunohistochemistry were performed to evaluate the extent of liver fibrosis. The levels of alanine transaminase (ALT), aspartate transaminase (AST), gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT), Hyp, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) were tested with an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. In addition, 7.0T micro-magnetic resonance imaging (micro-MRI) was used to evaluate the severity of hepatic damage.
RESULTS: The Zi Qi decoction inhibited lipopolysaccharide-mediated upregulation of mRNA and protein levels of representative ECM proteins both in vivo and in vitro. The Zi Qi decoction also suppressed activation of the Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-related NF-kappaB signaling pathway and subsequently inhibited the nuclear translocation of activated NF-kappaB. Moreover, another TLR4 downstream pathway, mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), was simultaneously restrained. The results of liver pathology and MRI in rat models also suggested the efficacy of the Zi Qi decoction in attenuating liver damage.
CONCLUSIONS: The Zi Qi decoction inhibited liver fibrosis by inhibiting the TLR4-related NF-kB and MAPK signaling pathways and preventing activation of HSCs.

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