Choline and hepatocarcinogenesis in the rat

S. H. Zeisel, K. A. Da Costa, C. D. Albright, O. H. Shin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Rats fed a choline deficient diet develop foci of enzyme-altered hepatocytes with subsequent formation of hepatic tumors. This is the only nutritional deficiency that, in itself, causes cancer. We suggested that carcinogenesis is triggered, in part, because of abnormalities in cell signals which regulate cell proliferation and cell death. Because choline deficient rats develop fatty liver (choline is needed for hepatic secretion of certain lipoproteins), we examined whether an important lipid second messenger involved in proliferative signaling, 1,2-sn-diacylglycerol, accumulated in liver and resulted in the prolonged activation of protein kinase C. We observed that 1,2-sn-diacylglycerol accumulated in the plasma membrane from the non-tumor portion of livers of rats fed a choline deficient diet, and that unsaturated free fatty acids, another activator of protein kinase C, also accumulated in deficient livers. Protein kinase C in the hepatic plasma membrane and nucleus of choline deficient rats was elevated for months; this is the only model system which exhibits such prolonged activation of protein kinase C. Premalignant, abnormal hepatic foci were detected only in the deficient rats, and 15% of deficient rats (none of the controls) had hepatocellular carcinoma at 1 year on the diet. In rats, an early event in choline deficiency is an increase in the rate of cell death. In liver from choline deficient rats, we observed an increase in the numbers of liver cells with fragmented DNA (characteristic of programmed cell death; apoptosis). We used a cell culture model (immortalized rat hepatocytes) to study the effects of choline deficiency on apoptosis. Liver cells grown in a choline deficient medium became depleted of choline, accumulated triacylglycerol and 1,2-sn-diacylglycerol, and had increased DNA fragmentation and other morphologic and biochemical changes associated with apoptosis. This model has great potential as a tool for studying the underlying link between choline deficiency and the regulation of the balance between cell proliferation and cell death. We suggest that choline deficiency altered the cell proliferation signals mediated by protein kinase C within liver, and altered cell apoptosis. These changes in cell signalling may be the triggering events which result in hepatic carcinogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-74
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in experimental medicine and biology
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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