Drug-induced endoplasmic reticulum and oxidative stress responses independently sensitize toward TNFα-mediated hepatotoxicity.
Drug-induced liver injury (DILI) is an important clinical problem. Here, we used a genomics approach to in detail investigate the hypothesis that critical drug-induced toxicity pathways act in synergy with the pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) to cause cell death of liver HepG2 cells. Transcriptomics of the cell injury stress response pathways initiated by two hepatoxicants, diclofenac and carbamazepine, revealed the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress/translational initiation signaling and nuclear factor-erythroid 2 (NF-E2)-related factor 2 (Nrf2) antioxidant signaling as two major affected pathways, which was similar to that observed for the majority of ∼80 DILI compounds in primary human hepatocytes. Compounds displaying weak or no TNFα synergism, namely ketoconazole, nefazodone, and methotrexate, failed to synchronously induce both pathways. The ER stress induced was primarily related to protein kinase R-like ER kinase (PERK) and activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) activation and subsequent expression of C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP), which was all independent of TNFα signaling. Identical ATF4 dependent transcriptional programs were observed in primary human hepatocytes as well as primary precision-cut human liver slices. Targeted RNA interference studies revealed that whereas ER stress signaling through inositol-requiring enzyme 1α (IRE1α) and activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6) acted cytoprotective, activation of the ER stress protein kinase PERK and subsequent expression of CHOP was pivotal for the onset of drug/TNFα-induced apoptosis. Whereas inhibition of the Nrf2-dependent adaptive oxidative stress response enhanced the drug/TNFα cytotoxicity, Nrf2 signaling did not affect CHOP expression. Both hepatotoxic drugs enhanced expression of the translational initiation factor EIF4A1, which was essential for CHOP expression and drug/TNFα-mediated cell killing. Our data support a model in which enhanced drug-induced translation initiates PERK-mediated CHOP signaling in an EIF4A1 dependent manner, thereby sensitizing toward caspase-8-dependent TNFα-induced apoptosis.