MitoQ Antioxidant May Prevent Liver Damage Caused by Excessive Alcohol Intake


The most common cause of fatty liver in the United States is alcoholism. In steatosis, fatty deposits accumulate in the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and cancer. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham have introduced an antioxidant they call MitoQ which may one day be used in humans to prevent the long-term damage associated with fatty liver.

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When alcohol is metabolized, it creates free radicals that can damage the mitochondria in the liver cells which prevent them from using sufficient amounts of oxygen to produce energy. The low-oxygen condition (hypoxia) worsens the damage and promotes the formation of fatty deposits that can progress to cirrhosis. MitoQ is able to intercept and neutralize free radicals before they cause damage.

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Victor Darley-Usmar PhD, a professor of pathology at UAB, and his team introduced mitochondria-targeted ubiquinone (MitoQ) into rats that were given alcohol every day for five to six weeks in an amount sufficient to mirror excessive intake in a human. The researchers report that the antioxidant decreased hepatic steatosis and prevented the formation of inflammatory factors 3-nitrotyosine (3-NT) and 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE).


About 2 million people in the United States have some form of alcoholic liver disease, states the Annals of Hepatology, and the estimated cost of the disease is $185 billion per year. Unfortunately, there has not been a “promising pharmaceutical approach to preventing or reversing the long-term damage associated with fatty deposits in the liver that result from excessive consumption of alcohol,” says Darley-Usmar.

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Co-author Balu Chacko says that previous studies have indicated that MitoQ can be safely administered to humans, making the antioxidant potentially effective for patients with alcohol-induced liver disease. The team is in discussions with the National Institutes of Health to develop a family of drugs based around interactions with mitochondria which would not only help with liver diseases, but also might be effective in treating cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.

“We know that free radicals play a role in human disease, and we have developed antioxidants that can eliminate free radicals in the laboratory,” said Dr. Darley-Usmar. “Unfortunately, previous trials using antioxidants in humans have not been as successful as anticipated. The difference with our current findings is that we targeted a specific part of the cell, the mitochondria. This is a unique approach, and this is one of the few pre-clinical trials that shows effectiveness.”

Journal Reference:
Usmar VD, Chacko BK et al. The mitochondria-targeted ubiquinone MitoQ decreases ethanol-dependent micro and macro hepatosteatosis. Hepatology, online April 21, 2011. DOI: 10.1002/hep.24377