The KLB rs17618244 gene variant is associated with fibrosing MAFLD by promoting hepatic stellate cell activation

Nadia Panera, Marica Meroni, Miriam Longo, Annalisa Crudele, Luca Valenti, Emanuele Bellacchio, Luca Miele, Valentina D'Oria, Erika Paolini, Marco Maggioni, Anna Ludovica Fracanzani, Anna Alisi, Paola Dongiovanni

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Background: The rs17618244 G>A β-Klotho (KLB) variant has been associated with increased risk of ballooning and inflammation in pediatric patients with metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD), by reducing KLB expression. In hepatocytes, KLB downregulation induced fat accumulation and the expression of inflammatory and lipotoxic genes. We aimed to examine firstly the impact of the KLB rs17618244 variation on liver damage in adult patients with MAFLD and secondly its effect on hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) activation. Methods: The impact of the KLB rs17618244 variant on histological liver damage was surveyed in a retrospective cohort of 1111 adult patients with MAFLD. Subgroup analysis was performed according to the presence of obesity (BMI>35; n = 708). Immortalized HSCs (LX-2) were transfected with the KLB wild type (LX-2_KLBwt), or with the mutant one carrying the rs17618244 (LX-2_KLBmut). Findings: At ordinal regression analysis the KLB rs17618244 variant was associated with hepatic fibrosis (OR 1.23, 95% C.I.1.004–1.51; p = 0.04), but not with steatosis, inflammation and ballooning. By stratifying patients according to the presence of obesity, the KLB A allele was further associated with lobular inflammation (OR 1.32, 95% C.I.1.02–1.72; p = 0.03) and cirrhosis (OR 2.51, 95% C.I.1.23–5.05; p = 0.01) Moreover, hepatic KLB expression correlated with that of fibrogenic genes. LX-2_KLBmut cells showed reduced KLB protein levels paralleled by an induction of pro-fibrogenic genes and enhanced proliferative rate. Interpretation: The KLB rs17618244 variant is associated with hepatic fibrosis, inflammation and cirrhosis mainly in obese patients with MAFLD and HSCs which carry this mutation are highly proliferative and acquire a myofibroblast-like phenotype. Funding: Ricerca Finalizzata Ministero della Salute GR-2019–12,370,172 (NP), Ricerca Corrente Fondazione IRCCS Cà Granda (PD and ALF), Ricerca Finalizzata Ministero della Salute RF-2013–02,358,319 (ALF), and Ricerca Corrente and 5 × 1000 Ministero della Salute (AA).

Original languageEnglish
Article number103249
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • HSCS activation
  • Liver damage
  • protein stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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