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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Usnic acid-induced necrosis of cultured mouse hepatocytes: inhibition of mitochondrial function and oxidative stress.

Usnic acid, a lichen acid, is a compound found in crude medicines and dietary supplements, including Lipokinetix, a supplement marketed as a weight loss agent that caused hepatotoxicity and acute liver failure in patients. In this study, we examined the toxicity of usnic acid and assessed whether usnic acid may be contributing to hepatotoxicity caused by Lipokinetix. In primary cultured murine hepatocytes, usnic acid treatment (5 microM) resulted in 98% necrosis within 16 hr (no apoptosis was detected). Usnic acid treatment was associated with early inhibition and uncoupling of the electron transport chain in mitochondria of cultured hepatocytes. This inhibition of mitochondria by usnic acid corresponded with a fall in ATP levels in hepatocytes. In isolated liver mitochondria, usnic acid was observed to directly inhibit and uncouple oxidative phosphorylation. Oxidative stress appears to be central in usnic acid-induced hepatotoxicity based on the following findings: (1) pretreatment with antioxidants (butylated hydroxytoluene+Vitamin E) decreased usnic acid-induced necrosis by nearly 70%; (2) depletion of mitochondrial GSH with diethylmaleate increased susceptibility of hepatocytes to usnic acid; (3) usnic acid treatment was associated with increase free radical generation, measured using the fluorescent probe, dichlorodihydrofluorescin. The source of reactive oxygen species after usnic acid treatment include autoxidation of usnic acid and increased hydrogen peroxide generation by mitochondria caused by usnic acid inhibition of the respiratory chain, with the latter playing a more prominent role. Taken together, our results suggest that usnic acid is a strong hepatotoxic agent that triggers oxidative stress and disrupts the normal metabolic processes of cells. Usnic acid therefore may contribute to the hepatotoxic effects of Lipokinetix and its use in any supplement must come into question.[1]


  1. Usnic acid-induced necrosis of cultured mouse hepatocytes: inhibition of mitochondrial function and oxidative stress. Han, D., Matsumaru, K., Rettori, D., Kaplowitz, N. Biochem. Pharmacol. (2004) [Pubmed]
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