Snail is a transcription factor that regulates many cellular events involved in development, homeostasis, and disease. In hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), Snail induces epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition that confers invasive properties on tumor cells during HCC progression and malignancy. Snail activation observed in HCC mouse models suggests its involvement not only in progression, but also onset of HCC. However, it remains unclear whether Snail directly contributes to HCC initiation or whether it supports HCC initiation promoted by other oncogenes. In this study, we generated mouse models for liver-specific and hepatocyte-specific overexpression of Snail to show the independent roles of Snail in liver homeostasis and disease. Enforced Snail expression resulted in liver and hepatocyte enlargement, inflammatory cell infiltration in the liver, lipid accumulation in hepatocytes, substantial increases in serum alanine aminotransferase and bile acids, yellow discoloration of tissues caused by bilirubin accumulation, and liver tumorigenesis. Snail overexpression suppressed mRNA expression of the tight junction components claudins and occludin and that of proteins associated with bile acid metabolism, leading to disruption of the biliary canaliculus formed among hepatocytes and excretion of abnormal amounts of unusual bile acids from hepatocytes. In conclusion, enforced Snail expression in hepatocytes is sufficient for induction of steatohepatitis and liver tumorigenesis through disruption of the biliary canaliculus and bile acid homeostasis in the liver.
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