Validity of biopsy-based drug effects in a diet-induced obese mouse model of biopsy-confirmed NASH

Maria Nicoline Baandrup Kristiansen, Sanne Skovgård Veidal, Christina Christoffersen, Michael Feigh, Niels Vrang, Jonathan David Roth, Mary Erickson, Luciano Adorini, Jacob Jelsing


BACKGROUND: Compounds in clinical development for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) improve liver histopathology in diet-induced obese mouse models of biopsy-confirmed NASH. Since the biopsy section used for histopathological evaluation represents only < 1% of the whole mouse liver, we evaluated how well biopsy-based quantitative image analyses correlate to stereology-based whole-liver quantitative changes upon drug treatment.

METHODS: Male leptin-deficient Lepob/Lepob mice were fed the Amylin liver NASH (AMLN) diet for 16 weeks before stratification into treatment groups using a biopsy-based evaluation of type I collagen αI (col1a1) levels. Mice were treated for 8 weeks with either vehicle (PO, QD), liraglutide (0.4 mg/kg, SC, QD), elafibranor (30 mg/kg, PO, QD) or INT-767 (10 mg/kg, PO, QD). Terminal quantitative histological assessment of liver lipid (hematoxylin-eosin staining), inflammation (galectin-3 immunohistochemistry (IHC); gal-3), and fibrosis (col1a1 IHC) was performed on terminal liver biopsies and compared with stereologically sampled serial sections spanning the medial, left and right lateral lobe of the liver.

RESULTS: The distribution of liver lipid and fibrosis was markedly consistent across lobes, whereas inflammation showed some variability. While INT-767 and liraglutide significantly reduced total liver weight by 20 and 48%, respectively, elafibranor tended to exacerbate hepatomegaly in Lepob/Lepob-NASH mice. All three compounds markedly reduced biopsy-based relative liver lipid content. Elafibranor and INT-767 significantly reduced biopsy-based relative gal-3 levels (P < 0.001), whereas INT-767 and liraglutide tended to reduce relative col1a1 levels. When changes in liver weight was accounted for, both INT-767 and liraglutide significantly reduced biopsy-based total col1a1 content. Although minor differences in absolute and relative liver lipid, inflammation and fibrosis levels were observed across lobes, the interpretation of drug-induced effects were consistent with biopsy-based conclusions. Notably, the incorporation of changes in total liver mass revealed that liraglutide's efficacy reached statistical significances for all analyzed parameters.

CONCLUSIONS: In conclusion, in-depth analyses of liver homogeneity demonstrated that drug-induced improvement in liver biopsy-assessed histopathology is representative for overall liver effects assessed using stereology. Importantly, these findings reveal how changes in whole-liver mass should be considered to provide a deeper understanding of apparent drug treatment efficacy in preclinical NASH studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number228
JournalBMC Gastroenterology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2019


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