Background: Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a debilitating complication of cirrhosis that affects over 40% of chronic liver disease (CLD) patients, leading to gross disorientation, asterixis, memory impairments, and death. An increase in blood ammonia has been coined the major factor in the pathogenesis of HE. However, the severity of symptoms does not always correlate with blood ammonia concentrations. This implies other factors may be involved. Hyperuricemia is associated with metabolic syndrome and chronic alcohol consumption which are known precipitating factors of CLD. Furthermore, uric acid (UA) has been reported to be involved in the induction of neuroinflammation and cell loss by apoptosis and pyroptosis, leading to anxiety-like behavior and memory impairment.
Purpose: This study investigates the impact of hyperuricemia on cognitive impairment in a rat model of chronic liver disease. Method: We used the bile-duct ligation (BDL) model; a well-characterized rat model of chronic liver disease and HE. Fifty-two male Sprague-Dawley rats (200-240 g) were randomly assigned to a control (SHAM) or a BDL surgery. To induce hyperuricemia, half of the animals were fed a high uric acid diet (HUAD) (3% uric acid), dividing our rats into 4 groups: (1) SHAM+regular diet (RD), (2) SHAM+HUAD, (3) BDL+RD and (4) BDL+HUAD. During 5 weeks, weekly plasma UA measurements were made and different behavior tests were conducted (anxiety (open-field) and short and long-term memory (novel-object recognition)) during the 5th week. At the end of week 5, rats were sacrificed, their brains collected, and the frontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala were isolated to assess cell death (caspase-3 (apoptosis) and caspase-1 (pyroptosis) activity). Result(s): HUAD significantly increased circulating UA in both SHAM and BDL rats. This was associated with a significant decrease in short-term memory without changes in anxiety-like behaviour for HUAD rats compared to their RD counterparts in both SHAMs and BDLs. For long-term memory, BDLs were shown to be significantly impaired compared to SHAMs. A significantly higher degree of impairment was seen in BDL+HUAD rats compared to BDL+RD. Cell death (apoptosis and pyroptosis) was then evaluated in the limbic system to explain some of the behavioral changes. In the frontal cortex, increased caspase-3 activity was measured in both SHAM+HUAD and BDL+HUAD rats in comparison to RD animals. In the hippocampus, caspase-1 activity was significantly increased in the BDL+HUAD rats compared to the BDL+RD rats and SHAM groups. In the amygdala, no significant changes in caspase activity were detected. Conclusion(s): In SHAM rats, diet-induced hyperuricemia shows a significant increase in circulating uric acid concentration as well as short-term memory loss associated with apoptosis (caspase-3 activity) in the frontal cortex. In BDL rats, hyperuricemia induces long-term memory impairments and apoptosis in the frontal cortex as well as pyroptosis in the hippocampus. The results from this study show the merit of further investigating the role of uric acid in HE.