Acute ethanol causes hepatic mitochondrial depolarization in mice: Role of ethanol metabolism

Zhi Zhong, Venkat K. Ramshesh, Hasibur Rehman, Qinlong Liu, Tom P. Theruvath, Yasodha Krishnasamy, John J. Lemasters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Background/Aims: An increase of ethanol metabolism and hepatic mitochondrial respiration occurs in vivo after a single binge of alcohol. Here, our aim was to determine how ethanol intake affects hepatic mitochondrial polarization status in vivo in relation to ethanol metabolism and steatosis. Methods: Hepatic mitochondrial polarization, permeability transition (MPT), and reduce pyridine nucleotides, and steatosis in mice were monitored by intravital confocal/multiphoton microscopy of the fluorescence of rhodamine 123 (Rh123), calcein, NAD(P)H, and BODIPY493/503, respectively, after gavage with ethanol (1-6 g/kg). Results: Mitochondria depolarized in an all-or-nothing fashion in individual hepatocytes as early as 1 h after alcohol. Depolarization was dose- and time-dependent, peaked after 6 to 12 h and maximally affected 94% of hepatocytes. This mitochondrial depolarization was not due to onset of the MPT. After 24 h, mitochondria of most hepatocytes recovered normal polarization and were indistinguishable from untreated after 7 days. Cell death monitored by propidium iodide staining, histology and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) was low throughout. After alcohol, mitochondrial NAD(P)H autofluorescence increased and decreased, respectively, in hepatocytes with polarized and depolarized mitochondria. Ethanol also caused steatosis mainly in hepatocytes with depolarized mitochondria. Depolarization was linked to ethanol metabolism, since deficiency of alcohol dehydrogenase and cytochrome-P450 2E1 (CYP2E1), the major ethanol-metabolizing enzymes, decreased mitochondrial depolarization by ∼70% and ∼20%, respectively. Activation of aldehyde dehydrogenase decreased depolarization, whereas inhibition of aldehyde dehydrogenase enhanced depolarization. Activation of aldehyde dehydrogenase also markedly decreased steatosis. Conclusions: Acute ethanol causes reversible hepatic mitochondrial depolarization in vivo that may contribute to steatosis and increased mitochondrial respiration. Onset of this mitochondrial depolarization is linked, at least in part, to metabolism of ethanol to acetaldehyde.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere91308
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 11 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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