Cholinergic nervous system regulates liver injury. However, the role of M1 muscarinic receptors (M1R) in modulating chronic liver injury is uncertain. To address this gap in knowledge we treated M1R-deficient and WT mice with azoxymethane (AOM) for six weeks and assessed liver injury responses 14 weeks after the last dose of AOM. Compared to AOM-treated WT mice, M1R-deficient mice had attenuated liver nodularity, fibrosis and ductular proliferation, α-SMA staining, and expression of α1 collagen, Tgfβ-R, Pdgf-R, Mmp-2, Timp-1 and Timp-2. In hepatocytes, these findings were associated with reductions of cleaved caspase-3 staining and Tnf-α expression. In response to AOM treatment, M1R-deficient mice mounted a vigorous anti-oxidant response by upregulating Gclc and Nqo1 expression, and attenuating peroxynitrite generation. M1R-deficient mouse livers had increased expression of Trail-R2, a promotor of stellate cell apoptosis; dual staining for TUNNEL and α-SMA revealed increased stellate cells apoptosis in livers from M1R-deficient mice compared to those from WT. Finally, pharmacological inhibition of M1R reduced H2O2 -induced hepatocyte apoptosis in vitro. These results indicate that following liver injury, anti-oxidant response in M1R-deficient mice attenuates hepatocyte apoptosis and reduces stellate cell activation, thereby diminishing fibrosis. Therefore, targeting M1R expression and activation in chronic liver injury may provide therapeutic benefit.
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