Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Microbiology & Immunology

First Advisor

Huiping Zhou


Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is one of the most common liver diseases worldwide characterized by the accumulation of lipids within the liver, inflammation and the possibility of progressing to cirrhosis and liver failure. More importantly, there are currently no effective treatments for ALD and liver transplantation remains the only therapeutic option for end-stage liver disease. Previous studies have shown that ALD is a result of a combination of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, lipid metabolism dysregulation and inflammation. It has been previously reported that alcohol disrupts gut microbiota homeostasis and causes increased endotoxins that contribute to the pathology of ALD. However, the detailed mechanism(s) underlying ALD and disease progression is poorly understood. We have discovered that sphingosine kinase 2 (SphK2) deficient (SphK2-/-) mice on an alcohol diet exhibit increased steatosis and inflammation compared to wild type mice. Sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor 2 (S1PR2) and SphK2 have been previously shown to play a key role in nutrient metabolism and signaling. However, their roles in alcohol-induced liver injury have not been characterized.

The overall objective of this study is to determine the molecular mechanism(s) by which disruption of S1PR2-mediated SphK2 signaling contributes to ALD. The effects of alcohol on mouse primary hepatocytes and cultured RAW264.7 macrophages were examined. The acute on chronic alcohol mouse model from NIAAA that recapitulates the drinking pattern of human ALD patients was used to study the effects of SphK2 deficiency in ALD. In addition, 60-day chronic alcohol mouse model was used to determine whether a more severe form of ALD was present in SphK2-/- mice. The results indicated that SphK2-/- mice on an alcohol diet exhibited an increased amount of hepatic steatosis compared to wild type mice. Genes regulating lipid metabolism were also dysregulated in SphK2-/- mice. SphK2-/- mice also had increased inflammation and liver injury as shown by an upregulation of inflammatory markers and increased levels of liver enzymes. Moreover, SphK2 protein expression levels were downregulated in the human livers of alcoholic cirrhotic and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients. These findings contribute to a greater understanding of the pathophysiology of ALD and could provide information on the development of novel therapeutics against ALD.


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