1Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is defined by excessive accumulation of lipid droplets within hepatocytes. The STE20-type kinases comprising the germinal center kinase III (GCKIII) subfamily - MST3, MST4, and STK25 - decorate intrahepatocellular lipid droplets and have recently emerged as critical regulators of the initiation and progression of NAFLD. While significant advancement has been made toward deciphering the role of GCKIII kinases in hepatic fat accumulation (i.e., steatosis) as well as the aggravation of NAFLD into its severe form nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), much remains to be resolved. This review provides a brief overview of the recent studies in patient cohorts, cultured human cells, and mouse models, which have characterized the function of MST3, MST4, and STK25 in the regulation of hepatic lipid accretion, meta-inflammation, and associated cell damage in the context of NAFLD/NASH. We also highlight the conflicting data and emphasize future research directions that are needed to advance our understanding of GCKIII kinases as potential targets in the therapy of NAFLD and its comorbidities. Conclusions: Several lines of evidence suggest that GCKIII proteins govern the susceptibility to hepatic lipotoxicity and that pharmacological inhibition of these kinases could mitigate NAFLD development and aggravation. Comprehensive characterization of the molecular mode-of-action of MST3, MST4, and STK25 in hepatocytes as well as extrahepatic tissues is important, especially in relation to their impact on carcinogenesis, to fully understand the efficacy as well as safety of GCKIII antagonism.