False-color transmission electron micrograph of erythroblasts, primitive red blood cells, in human bone marrow. Glutaredoxin 5 (GLRX5) deficiency has previously been identified as a cause of anemia, and in their article in this month’s issue, Ye and colleagues characterize the functions of this gene in cellular iron homeostasis, iron sulfur cluster biogenesis, and erythropoiesis (page 1749).
Did you know that gay men can’t donate blood, nor can they donate sperm anonymously to sperm banks? I applaud the 18 senators who have banded together to urge FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to revisit this issue, as current scientific data on infectious diseases does not lend credence to these policies.
Ushma S. Neill
The CNS is an immune-privileged environment, yet the local control of multiple pathogens is dependent on the ability of immune cells to access and operate within this site. However, inflammation of the distinct anatomical sites (i.e., meninges, cerebrospinal fluid, and parenchyma) associated with the CNS can also be deleterious. Therefore, control of lymphocyte entry and migration within the brain is vital to regulate protective and pathological responses. In this review, several recent advances are highlighted that provide new insights into the processes that regulate leukocyte access to, and movement within, the brain.
Emma H. Wilson, Wolfgang Weninger, Christopher A. Hunter
Bradykinin is the most potent endogenous inducer of acute pain. However, the way in which it excites nociceptive sensory nerve endings is still unclear. In an article recently published in the JCI, Liu et al. suggest a new mechanism via which bradykinin induces acute spontaneous pain. The authors report that the stimulation of B2 bradykinin receptors by bradykinin triggers the release of intracellular calcium ions from nociceptive sensory neurons of rat dorsal root ganglia. This depolarizes the sensory nerve endings by simultaneously closing M-type potassium channels and opening TMEM16A chloride channels, resulting in the production of nociceptive signals. Here, we discuss the relationship between this effect and a previously described mechanism for pain sensitization and evaluate its potential significance for therapeutic pain control. A separate study by Patwardhan et al. in this issue of the JCI identifies oxidized linoleic acid metabolites as novel mediators of thermally induced pain.
David A. Brown, Gayle M. Passmore
Strong epidemiological evidence indicates that derangement of single-carbon metabolism has detrimental effects for proper CNS functioning. Conversely, a role for folate supplementation in the treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders remains to be established. In this issue of the JCI, in an elegant series of experiments in rodents, Iskandar and colleagues demonstrate a crucial role of folate in the regeneration of afferent spinal neurons after injury. Probing sequential steps in folate metabolism, from cellular entry to DNA methylation, the authors show that axonal regeneration relies upon the integrity of DNA methylation pathways. These findings provide the first demonstration of an epigenetic mechanism contributing to neurorepair and suggest that manipulation of the methylation milieu may offer promising new therapeutic avenues to promote regeneration.
Golo Kronenberg, Matthias Endres
Cleft lip and cleft palate, which can also occur together as cleft lip and palate, are frequent and debilitating congenital malformations, with complex geneses that have both genetic and environmental factors implicated. Mutations in the genes encoding the p53 homolog p63 and interferon regulatory factor 6 (IRF6) are major causes of cleft lip and cleft palate, but the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying this have not been clear. However, in this issue of the JCI, Thomason et al. and Moretti et al. independently show that p63 and IRF6 operate within a regulatory loop to coordinate epithelial proliferation and differentiation during normal palate development. Disruption of this loop as a result of mutations in p63 or IRF6 causes congenital clefting.
The mechanism by which Cryptococcus neoformans invades the central nervous system is fundamental for understanding pathogenesis because cryptococcosis commonly presents as meningoencephalitis. There is evidence for both direct invasion of the endothelial cells lining the brain vasculature and a “Trojan horse” mechanism whereby cryptococci enter the central nervous system after macrophage ingestion. However, in this issue of the JCI, Shi et al. use intravital microscopy to reveal that brain invasion by C. neoformans follows a capillary microembolic event. They find that after suddenly stopping in brain capillaries, cryptococci cross into the central nervous system in a process that is urease dependent, requires viability, and involves cellular deformation. This observation provides evidence for direct brain invasion by C. neoformans, but a consideration of all the currently available evidence suggests a role for both direct and phagocyte-associated invasion. Hence, the remarkable neurotropism of C. neoformans may have more than one mechanism.
The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway is activated in several disorders associated with benign tumors and malformations of the cerebral cortex. In this issue of the JCI, Orlova et al. have now definitively added another disorder to this group by demonstrating that activation of mTOR signaling is associated with polyhydramnios, megalencephaly, and symptomatic epilepsy syndrome (PMSE), which is characterized by severe intractable epilepsy and megalencephaly. PMSE is caused by lack of the pseudokinase STE20-related kinase adaptor α (STRADα), and Orlova et al. show that reduction of STRADα levels during corticogenesis in the mouse results in a cellular phenotype and neuronal migration defects similar to those observed in patients with PMSE, clearly demonstrating a pivotal role for STRADα in cell polarity and growth. This study helps pave the way for possible therapeutic intervention with rapamycin to control the epilepsy and learning disabilities associated with this disorder.
Lucy R. Osborne
HDL has anti-atherogenic properties, and plasma levels of HDL cholesterol correlate inversely with risk of coronary artery disease. HDL reportedly functions as a cofactor to the anticoagulant activated protein C (APC) in the degradation of factor Va (FVa). The aim of the present study was to elucidate the mechanism by which HDL functions as cofactor to APC. Consistent with a previous report, HDL isolated from human plasma by ultracentrifugation was found to stimulate APC-mediated degradation of FVa. However, further purification of HDL by gel filtration revealed that the stimulating activity was not a property of HDL. Instead, the stimulating activity eluted completely separately from HDL in the high-molecular-weight void volume fractions. The active portion of these fractions stimulated FVa degradation by APC and supported the assembly of factor Xa and FVa into a functional prothrombinase complex. Both the procoagulant and anticoagulant activities were blocked by addition of annexin V, suggesting that the active portion was negatively charged phospholipid membranes. These results demonstrate that HDL does not stimulate the APC/protein S effect and that the activity previously reported to be a property of HDL is instead caused by contaminating negatively charged phospholipid membranes.
Cecilia Oslakovic, Eva Norstrøm, Björn Dahlbäck
Although lipid metabolism is thought to be important for the proper maturation and function of spermatozoa, the molecular mechanisms that underlie this dynamic process in the gonads remains incompletely understood. Here, we show that group III phospholipase A2 (sPLA2-III), a member of the secreted phospholipase A2 (sPLA2) family, is expressed in the mouse proximal epididymal epithelium and that targeted disruption of the gene encoding this protein (Pla2g3) leads to defects in sperm maturation and fertility. Although testicular spermatogenesis in Pla2g3–/– mice was grossly normal, spermatozoa isolated from the cauda epididymidis displayed hypomotility, and their ability to fertilize intact eggs was markedly impaired. Transmission EM further revealed that epididymal spermatozoa in Pla2g3–/– mice had both flagella with abnormal axonemes and aberrant acrosomal structures. During epididymal transit, phosphatidylcholine in the membrane of Pla2g3+/+ sperm underwent a dramatic shift in its acyl groups from oleic, linoleic, and arachidonic acids to docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, whereas this membrane lipid remodeling event was compromised in sperm from Pla2g3–/– mice. Moreover, the gonads of Pla2g3–/– mice contained less 12/15-lipoxygenase metabolites than did those of Pla2g3+/+ mice. Together, our results reveal a role for the atypical sPLA2 family member sPLA2-III in epididymal lipid homeostasis and indicate that its perturbation may lead to sperm dysfunction.
Hiroyasu Sato ... Ichiro Kudo, Makoto Murakami
Ejaculated mammalian sperm must undergo a maturation process called capacitation before they are able to fertilize an egg. Several studies have suggested a role for members of the secreted phospholipase A2 (sPLA2) family in capacitation, acrosome reaction (AR), and fertilization, but the molecular nature of these enzymes and their specific roles have remained elusive. Here, we have demonstrated that mouse group X sPLA2 (mGX) is the major enzyme present in the acrosome of spermatozoa and that it is released in an active form during capacitation through spontaneous AR. mGX-deficient male mice produced smaller litters than wild-type male siblings when crossed with mGX-deficient females. Further analysis revealed that spermatozoa from mGX-deficient mice exhibited lower rates of spontaneous AR and that this was associated with decreased in vitro fertilization (IVF) efficiency due to a drop in the fertilization potential of the sperm and an increased rate of aborted embryos. Treatment of sperm with sPLA2 inhibitors and antibodies specific for mGX blocked spontaneous AR of wild-type sperm and reduced IVF success. Addition of lysophosphatidylcholine, a catalytic product of mGX, overcame these deficiencies. Finally, recombinant mGX triggered AR and improved IVF outcome. Taken together, our results highlight a paracrine role for mGX during capacitation in which the enzyme primes sperm for efficient fertilization and boosts premature AR of a likely phospholipid-damaged sperm subpopulation to eliminate suboptimal sperm from the pool available for fertilization.
Jessica Escoffier ... Gérard Lambeau, Christophe Arnoult
Sphingosine kinase 1 (SphK1) and SphK2 are ubiquitous enzymes that generate sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P), a ligand for a family of G protein–coupled receptors (S1PR1–S1PR5) with important functions in the vascular and immune systems. Here we explore the role of these kinases and receptors in recovery from anaphylaxis in mice. We found that Sphk2–/– mice had a rapid recovery from anaphylaxis. In contrast, Sphk1–/– mice showed poor recovery from anaphylaxis and delayed histamine clearance. Injection of S1P into Sphk1–/– mice increased histamine clearance and promoted recovery from anaphylaxis. Adoptive cell transfer experiments demonstrated that SphK1 activity was required in both the hematopoietic and nonhematopoietic compartments for recovery from anaphylaxis. Mice lacking the S1P receptor S1PR2 also showed a delay in plasma histamine clearance and a poor recovery from anaphylaxis. However, S1P did not promote the recovery of S1pr2–/– mice from anaphylaxis, whereas S1pr2+/– mice showed partial recovery. Unlike Sphk2–/– mice, Sphk1–/– and S1pr2–/– mice had severe hypotension during anaphylaxis. Thus, SphK1-produced S1P regulates blood pressure, histamine clearance, and recovery from anaphylaxis in a manner that involves S1PR2. This suggests that specific S1PR2 agonists may serve to counteract the vasodilation associated with anaphylactic shock.
Ana Olivera ... Richard L. Proia, Juan Rivera
Potassium (K+) channels in the inner mitochondrial membrane influence cell function and survival. Increasing evidence indicates that multiple signaling pathways and pharmacological actions converge on mitochondrial ATP-sensitive K+ (mitoKATP) channels and PKC to confer cytoprotection against necrotic and apoptotic cell injury. However, the molecular structure of mitoKATP channels remains unresolved, and the mitochondrial phosphoprotein(s) that mediate cytoprotection by PKC remain to be determined. As mice deficient in the main sarcolemmal gap junction protein connexin 43 (Cx43) lack this cytoprotection, we set out to investigate a possible link among mitochondrial Cx43, mitoKATP channel function, and PKC activation. By patch-clamping the inner membrane of subsarcolemmal murine cardiac mitochondria, we found that genetic Cx43 deficiency, pharmacological connexin inhibition by carbenoxolone, and Cx43 blockade by the mimetic peptide 43GAP27 each substantially reduced diazoxide-mediated stimulation of mitoKATP channels. Suppression of mitochondrial Cx43 inhibited mitoKATP channel activation by PKC. MitoKATP channels of interfibrillar mitochondria, which do not contain any detectable Cx43, were insensitive to both PKC activation and diazoxide, further demonstrating the role of Cx43 in mitoKATP channel stimulation and the compartmentation of mitochondria in cell signaling. Our results define a role for mitochondrial Cx43 in protecting cardiac cells from death and provide a link between cytoprotective stimuli and mitoKATP channel opening, making Cx43 an attractive therapeutic target for protection against cell injury.
Dennis Rottlaender ... Gerd Heusch, Uta C. Hoppe
Obese patients have chronic, low-grade inflammation that predisposes to type 2 diabetes and results, in part, from dysregulated visceral white adipose tissue (WAT) functions. The specific signaling pathways underlying WAT dysregulation, however, remain unclear. Here we report that the PPARγ signaling pathway operates differently in the visceral WAT of lean and obese mice. PPARγ in visceral, but not subcutaneous, WAT from obese mice displayed increased sensitivity to activation by its agonist rosiglitazone. This increased sensitivity correlated with increased expression of the gene encoding the ubiquitin hydrolase/ligase ubiquitin carboxyterminal esterase L1 (UCH-L1) and with increased degradation of the PPARγ heterodimerization partner retinoid X receptor α (RXRα), but not RXRβ, in visceral WAT from obese humans and mice. Interestingly, increased UCH-L1 expression and RXRα proteasomal degradation was induced in vitro by conditions mimicking hypoxia, a condition that occurs in obese visceral WAT. Finally, PPARγ-RXRβ heterodimers, but not PPARγ-RXRα complexes, were able to efficiently dismiss the transcriptional corepressor silencing mediator for retinoid and thyroid hormone receptors (SMRT) upon agonist binding. Increasing the RXRα/RXRβ ratio resulted in increased PPARγ responsiveness following agonist stimulation. Thus, the selective proteasomal degradation of RXRα initiated by UCH-L1 upregulation modulates the relative affinity of PPARγ heterodimers for SMRT and their responsiveness to PPARγ agonists, ultimately activating the PPARγ-controlled gene network in visceral WAT of obese animals and humans.
Bruno Lefebvre ... Bart Staels, Philippe Lefebvre
Crescentic glomerulonephritis (CGN), which frequently results in acute and chronic kidney disease, is characterized by and dependent on glomerular infiltration by macrophages. The mannose receptor (MR) is a pattern recognition receptor implicated in the uptake of endogenous and microbial ligands by macrophages, mesangial cells (MCs), and selected endothelial cells. It is upregulated on alternatively activated macrophages (i.e., macrophages associated with tissue repair and humoral immunity) and involved in antigen presentation to T cells. We used the mouse model of nephrotoxic nephritis to investigate the role of MR in CGN. Our results demonstrate what we believe to be a novel role for MR in the promotion of CGN that is independent of adaptive immune responses. MR-deficient (Mr–/–) mice were protected from CGN despite generating humoral and T cell responses similar to those of WT mice, but they demonstrated diminished macrophage and MC Fc receptor–mediated (FcR-mediated) functions, including phagocytosis and Fc-mediated oxygen burst activity. Mr–/– MCs demonstrated augmented apoptosis compared with WT cells, and this was associated with diminished Akt phosphorylation. Macrophage interaction with apoptotic MCs induced a noninflammatory phenotype that was more marked in Mr–/– macrophages than in WT macrophages. Our results demonstrate that MR augments Fc-mediated function and promotes MC survival. We suggest that targeting MR may provide an alternative therapeutic approach in CGN while minimizing the impact on adaptive immune responses, which are affected by conventional immunosuppressive approaches.
Konstantia-Maria Chavele ... Siamon Gordon, Alan D. Salama
CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ Tregs have an indispensable role in the maintenance of tolerance after allogeneic HSC transplantation (HSCT). Patients with chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) have fewer circulating Tregs, but the mechanisms that lead to this deficiency of Tregs after HSCT are not known. Here, we analyzed reconstitution of Tregs and conventional CD4+ T cells (Tcons) in patients who underwent allogeneic HSCT after myeloablative conditioning. Following transplant, thymic generation of naive Tregs was markedly impaired, and reconstituting Tregs had a predominantly activated/memory phenotype. In response to CD4+ lymphopenia after HSCT, Tregs underwent higher levels of proliferation than Tcons, but Tregs undergoing homeostatic proliferation also showed increased susceptibility to Fas-mediated apoptosis. Prospective monitoring of CD4+ T cell subsets revealed that Tregs rapidly expanded and achieved normal levels by 9 months after HSCT, but Treg levels subsequently declined in patients with prolonged CD4+ lymphopenia. This resulted in a relative deficiency of Tregs, which was associated with a high incidence of extensive chronic GVHD. These studies indicate that CD4+ lymphopenia is a critical factor in Treg homeostasis and that prolonged imbalance of Treg homeostasis after HSCT can result in loss of tolerance and significant clinical disease manifestations.
Ken-ichi Matsuoka ... Robert J. Soiffer, Jerome Ritz
In the adult heart, regulation of fatty acid oxidation and mitochondrial genes is controlled by the PPARγ coactivator–1 (PGC-1) family of transcriptional coactivators. However, in response to pathological stressors such as hemodynamic load or ischemia, cardiac myocytes downregulate PGC-1 activity and fatty acid oxidation genes in preference for glucose metabolism pathways. Interestingly, despite the reduced PGC-1 activity, these pathological stressors are associated with mitochondrial biogenesis, at least initially. The transcription factors that regulate these changes in the setting of reduced PGC-1 are unknown, but Myc can regulate glucose metabolism and mitochondrial biogenesis during cell proliferation and tumorigenesis in cancer cells. Here we have demonstrated that Myc activation in the myocardium of adult mice increases glucose uptake and utilization, downregulates fatty acid oxidation by reducing PGC-1α levels, and induces mitochondrial biogenesis. Inactivation of Myc in the adult myocardium attenuated hypertrophic growth and decreased the expression of glycolytic and mitochondrial biogenesis genes in response to hemodynamic load. Surprisingly, the Myc-orchestrated metabolic alterations were associated with preserved cardiac function and improved recovery from ischemia. Our data suggest that Myc directly regulates glucose metabolism and mitochondrial biogenesis in cardiac myocytes and is an important regulator of energy metabolism in the heart in response to pathologic stress.
Preeti Ahuja ... Michael Portman, W. Robb MacLellan
Although many animal studies indicate insulin has cardioprotective effects, clinical studies suggest a link between insulin resistance (hyperinsulinemia) and heart failure (HF). Here we have demonstrated that excessive cardiac insulin signaling exacerbates systolic dysfunction induced by pressure overload in rodents. Chronic pressure overload induced hepatic insulin resistance and plasma insulin level elevation. In contrast, cardiac insulin signaling was upregulated by chronic pressure overload because of mechanical stretch–induced activation of cardiomyocyte insulin receptors and upregulation of insulin receptor and Irs1 expression. Chronic pressure overload increased the mismatch between cardiomyocyte size and vascularity, thereby inducing myocardial hypoxia and cardiomyocyte death. Inhibition of hyperinsulinemia substantially improved pressure overload–induced cardiac dysfunction, improving myocardial hypoxia and decreasing cardiomyocyte death. Likewise, the cardiomyocyte-specific reduction of insulin receptor expression prevented cardiac ischemia and hypertrophy and attenuated systolic dysfunction due to pressure overload. Conversely, treatment of type 1 diabetic mice with insulin improved hyperglycemia during pressure overload, but increased myocardial ischemia and cardiomyocyte death, thereby inducing HF. Promoting angiogenesis restored the cardiac dysfunction induced by insulin treatment. We therefore suggest that the use of insulin to control hyperglycemia could be harmful in the setting of pressure overload and that modulation of insulin signaling is crucial for the treatment of HF.
Ippei Shimizu ... E. Dale Abel, Issei Komuro
Chronic stress is associated with hormonal changes that are known to affect multiple systems, including the immune and endocrine systems, but the effects of stress on cancer growth and progression are not fully understood. Here, we demonstrate that human ovarian cancer cells exposed to either norepinephrine or epinephrine exhibit lower levels of anoikis, the process by which cells enter apoptosis when separated from ECM and neighboring cells. In an orthotopic mouse model of human ovarian cancer, restraint stress and the associated increases in norepinephrine and epinephrine protected the tumor cells from anoikis and promoted their growth by activating focal adhesion kinase (FAK). These effects involved phosphorylation of FAKY397, which was itself associated with actin-dependent Src interaction with membrane-associated FAK. Importantly, in human ovarian cancer patients, behavioral states related to greater adrenergic activity were associated with higher levels of pFAKY397, which was in turn linked to substantially accelerated mortality. These data suggest that FAK modulation by stress hormones, especially norepinephrine and epinephrine, can contribute to tumor progression in patients with ovarian cancer and may point to potential new therapeutic targets for cancer management.
Anil K. Sood ... Steven W. Cole, Susan K. Lutgendorf
Fanconi anemia (FA) is a rare human genetic disease caused by mutations in any one of 13 known genes that encode proteins functioning in one common signaling pathway, the FA pathway, or in unknown genes. One characteristic of FA is an extremely high incidence of cancer, indicating the importance of the FA pathway in tumor suppression. However, the role of this pathway in the development and progression of human cancers in individuals who do not have FA has not been clearly determined. Here, we report that elevated expression of what we believe to be a novel splice variant of FA complementation group L (FANCL), which we identified and named FAVL, can impair the FA pathway in non-FA human tumor cells and act as a tumor promoting factor. FAVL expression was elevated in half of the human carcinoma cell lines and carcinoma tissue samples tested. Expression of FAVL resulted in decreased FANCL expression by sequestering FANCL to the cytoplasm and enhancing its degradation. Importantly, this impairment of the FA pathway by FAVL elevation provided human cancer cells with a growth advantage, caused chromosomal instability in vitro, and promoted tumor development in a xenograft mouse model. These data indicate that FAVL impairment of the FA pathway likely contributes to the development of non-FA human cancers and therefore add a challenging layer of complexity to the pathogenesis of human cancer. We further believe that these data will prove useful for developing additional tools for fighting human cancer.
Jun Zhang ... Julian R. Molina, Peiwen Fei
Breast cancer 1, early onset (BRCA1) expression is often reduced in sporadic breast tumors, even in the absence of BRCA1 genetic modifications, but the molecular basis for this is unknown. In this study, we identified homeobox A9 (HOXA9) as a gene frequently downregulated in human breast cancers and tumor cell lines and noted that reduced HOXA9 transcript levels associated with tumor aggression, metastasis, and patient mortality. Experiments revealed that loss of HOXA9 promoted mammary epithelial cell growth and survival and perturbed tissue morphogenesis. Restoring HOXA9 expression repressed growth and survival and inhibited the malignant phenotype of breast cancer cells in culture and in a xenograft mouse model. Molecular studies showed that HOXA9 restricted breast tumor behavior by directly modulating the expression of BRCA1. Indeed, ectopic expression of wild-type BRCA1 phenocopied the tumor suppressor function of HOXA9, and reducing BRCA1 levels or function inhibited the antitumor activity of HOXA9. Consistently, HOXA9 expression correlated with BRCA1 in clinical specimens and with tumor aggression in patients lacking estrogen receptor/progesterone receptor expression in their breast tissue. These findings indicate that HOXA9 restricts breast tumor aggression by modulating expression of the tumor suppressor gene BRCA1, which we believe provides an explanation for the loss of BRCA1 expression in sporadic breast tumors in the absence of BRCA1 genetic modifications.
Penney M. Gilbert ... Barbara L. Weber, Valerie M. Weaver
Clinical trials of oncolytic virotherapy have shown low toxicity and encouraging signs of efficacy. However, it remains critically important to develop methods for systemic viral delivery if such therapies are to be clinically implemented to treat established tumors. In this respect, much effort is being focused on combining oncolytic viruses with standard treatment modalities such as inhibitors of VEGF165 (an alternatively spliced isoform of VEGF-A) signaling, which are widely used to treat several different cancers. Here, we have demonstrated that combining VEGF165 inhibitors with systemic delivery of oncolytic viruses leads to substantial regression and cure of established tumors in immunocompetent mice. We have shown that manipulating VEGF165-mediated signaling by administering VEGF165 to mice harboring mouse melanoma cells that do not express VEGF165 and by administering a VEGF inhibitor and then withdrawing treatment to allow VEGF levels to rebound in mice harboring mouse melanoma cells expressing VEGF165 allows tumor-associated endothelial cells transiently to support viral replication. This approach led to direct tumor cell lysis and triggered innate immune–mediated attack on the tumor vasculature. It also resulted in long-term antitumor effects, even against tumors in which viral replication is poorly supported. Since this combinatorial approach targets the tumor endothelium, we believe these data have direct, wide-ranging, and immediate clinical applicability across a broad range of tumor types.
Timothy Kottke ... Kevin Harrington, Richard Vile
Cleft palate is a common congenital disorder that affects up to 1 in 2,500 live human births and results in considerable morbidity to affected individuals and their families. The etiology of cleft palate is complex, with both genetic and environmental factors implicated. Mutations in the transcription factor–encoding genes p63 and interferon regulatory factor 6 (IRF6) have individually been identified as causes of cleft palate; however, a relationship between the key transcription factors p63 and IRF6 has not been determined. Here, we used both mouse models and human primary keratinocytes from patients with cleft palate to demonstrate that IRF6 and p63 interact epistatically during development of the secondary palate. Mice simultaneously carrying a heterozygous deletion of p63 and the Irf6 knockin mutation R84C, which causes cleft palate in humans, displayed ectodermal abnormalities that led to cleft palate. Furthermore, we showed that p63 transactivated IRF6 by binding to an upstream enhancer element; genetic variation within this enhancer element is associated with increased susceptibility to cleft lip. Our findings therefore identify p63 as a key regulatory molecule during palate development and provide a mechanism for the cooperative role of p63 and IRF6 in orofacial development in mice and humans.
Helen A. Thomason ... Hans van Bokhoven, Jill Dixon
The human congenital syndromes ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia-cleft lip/palate syndrome, ankyloblepharon ectodermal dysplasia clefting, and split-hand/foot malformation are all characterized by ectodermal dysplasia, limb malformations, and cleft lip/palate. These phenotypic features are a result of an imbalance between the proliferation and differentiation of precursor cells during development of ectoderm-derived structures. Mutations in the p63 and interferon regulatory factor 6 (IRF6) genes have been found in human patients with these syndromes, consistent with phenotypes. Here, we used human and mouse primary keratinocytes and mouse models to investigate the role of p63 and IRF6 in proliferation and differentiation. We report that the ΔNp63 isoform of p63 activated transcription of IRF6, and this, in turn, induced proteasome-mediated ΔNp63 degradation. This feedback regulatory loop allowed keratinocytes to exit the cell cycle, thereby limiting their ability to proliferate. Importantly, mutations in either p63 or IRF6 resulted in disruption of this regulatory loop: p63 mutations causing ectodermal dysplasias were unable to activate IRF6 transcription, and mice with mutated or null p63 showed reduced Irf6 expression in their palate and ectoderm. These results identify what we believe to be a novel mechanism that regulates the proliferation-differentiation balance of keratinocytes essential for palate fusion and skin differentiation and links the pathogenesis of 2 genetically different groups of ectodermal dysplasia syndromes into a common molecular pathway.
Francesca Moretti ... Luisa Guerrini, Antonio Costanzo
Genetic susceptibility to autoimmunity is frequently associated with specific MHC alleles. Diabetogenic MHC class II molecules, such as human HLA-DQ8 and mouse I-Ag7, typically have a small, uncharged amino acid residue at position 57 of their β chain (β57); this results in the absence of a salt bridge between β57 and Argα76, which is adjacent to the P9 pocket of the peptide-binding groove. However, the influence of Argα76 on the selection of the TCR repertoire remains unknown, particularly when the MHC molecule binds a peptide with a neutral amino acid residue at position P9. Here, we have shown that diabetogenic MHC class II molecules bound to a peptide with a neutral P9 residue primarily selected and expanded cells expressing TCRs bearing a negatively charged residue in the first segment of their complementarity determining region 3β. The crystal structure of one such TCR in complex with I-Ag7 bound to a peptide containing a neutral P9 residue revealed that a network of favorable long-range (greater than 4 Å) electrostatic interactions existed among Argα76, the neutral P9 residue, and TCR, which supported the substantially increased TCR/peptide-MHC affinity. This network could be modulated or switched to a lower affinity interaction by the introduction of a negative charge at position P9 of the peptide. Our results support the existence of a switch at residue β57 of the I-Ag7 and HLA-DQ8 class II molecules and potentially link normal thymic TCR selection with abnormal peripheral behavior.
Kenji Yoshida, Adam L. Corper, Rana Herro, Bana Jabri, Ian A. Wilson, Luc Teyton
Polyhydramnios, megalencephaly, and symptomatic epilepsy syndrome (PMSE) is a rare human autosomal-recessive disorder characterized by abnormal brain development, cognitive disability, and intractable epilepsy. It is caused by homozygous deletions of STE20-related kinase adaptor α (STRADA). The underlying pathogenic mechanisms of PMSE and the role of STRADA in cortical development remain unknown. Here, we found that a human PMSE brain exhibits cytomegaly, neuronal heterotopia, and aberrant activation of mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling. STRADα normally binds and exports the protein kinase LKB1 out of the nucleus, leading to suppression of the mTORC1 pathway. We found that neurons in human PMSE cortex exhibited abnormal nuclear localization of LKB1. To investigate this further, we modeled PMSE in mouse neural progenitor cells (mNPCs) in vitro and in developing mouse cortex in vivo by knocking down STRADα expression. STRADα-deficient mNPCs were cytomegalic and showed aberrant rapamycin-dependent activation of mTORC1 in association with abnormal nuclear localization of LKB1. Consistent with the observations in human PMSE brain, knockdown of STRADα in vivo resulted in cortical malformation, enhanced mTORC1 activation, and abnormal nuclear localization of LKB1. Thus, we suggest that the aberrant nuclear accumulation of LKB1 caused by STRADα deficiency contributes to hyperactivation of mTORC1 signaling and disruption of neuronal lamination during corticogenesis, and thereby the neurological features associated with PMSE.
Ksenia A. Orlova ... Kevin Strauss, Peter B. Crino
The folate pathway plays a crucial role in the regeneration and repair of the adult CNS after injury. Here, we have shown in rodents that such repair occurs at least in part through DNA methylation. In animals with combined spinal cord and sciatic nerve injury, folate-mediated CNS axon regeneration was found to depend on injury-related induction of the high-affinity folate receptor 1 (Folr1). The activity of folate was dependent on its activation by the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase (Dhfr) and a functional methylation cycle. The effect of folate on the regeneration of afferent spinal neurons was biphasic and dose dependent and correlated closely over its dose range with global and gene-specific DNA methylation and with expression of both the folate receptor Folr1 and the de novo DNA methyltransferases. These data implicate an epigenetic mechanism in CNS repair. Folic acid and possibly other nontoxic dietary methyl donors may therefore be useful in clinical interventions to promote brain and spinal cord healing. If indeed the benefit of folate is mediated by epigenetic mechanisms that promote endogenous axonal regeneration, this provides possible avenues for new pharmacologic approaches to treating CNS injuries.
Bermans J. Iskandar ... Thomas D. Cook, Kirk J. Hogan
The transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel is the principal detector of noxious heat in the peripheral nervous system. TRPV1 is expressed in many nociceptors and is involved in heat-induced hyperalgesia and thermoregulation. The precise mechanism or mechanisms mediating the thermal sensitivity of TRPV1 are unknown. Here, we have shown that the oxidized linoleic acid metabolites 9- and 13-hydroxyoctadecadienoic acid (9- and 13-HODE) are formed in mouse and rat skin biopsies by exposure to noxious heat. 9- and 13-HODE and their metabolites, 9- and 13-oxoODE, activated TRPV1 and therefore constitute a family of endogenous TRPV1 agonists. Moreover, blocking these substances substantially decreased the heat sensitivity of TRPV1 in rats and mice and reduced nociception. Collectively, our results indicate that HODEs contribute to the heat sensitivity of TRPV1 in rodents. Because oxidized linoleic acid metabolites are released during cell injury, these findings suggest a mechanism for integrating the hyperalgesic and proinflammatory roles of TRPV1 and linoleic acid metabolites and may provide the foundation for investigating new classes of analgesic drugs.
Amol M. Patwardhan ... Robert C. Murphy, Kenneth M. Hargreaves
Regulation of sodium balance is a critical factor in the maintenance of euvolemia, and dysregulation of renal sodium excretion results in disorders of altered intravascular volume, such as hypertension. The amiloride-sensitive epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) is thought to be the only mechanism for sodium transport in the cortical collecting duct (CCD) of the kidney. However, it has been found that much of the sodium absorption in the CCD is actually amiloride insensitive and sensitive to thiazide diuretics, which also block the Na-Cl cotransporter (NCC) located in the distal convoluted tubule. In this study, we have demonstrated the presence of electroneutral, amiloride-resistant, thiazide-sensitive, transepithelial NaCl absorption in mouse CCDs, which persists even with genetic disruption of ENaC. Furthermore, hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) increased excretion of Na+ and Cl– in mice devoid of the thiazide target NCC, suggesting that an additional mechanism might account for this effect. Studies on isolated CCDs suggested that the parallel action of the Na+-driven Cl–/HCO3– exchanger (NDCBE/SLC4A8) and the Na+-independent Cl–/HCO3– exchanger (pendrin/SLC26A4) accounted for the electroneutral thiazide-sensitive sodium transport. Furthermore, genetic ablation of SLC4A8 abolished thiazide-sensitive NaCl transport in the CCD. These studies establish what we believe to be a novel role for NDCBE in mediating substantial Na+ reabsorption in the CCD and suggest a role for this transporter in the regulation of fluid homeostasis in mice.
Françoise Leviel ... Régine Chambrey, Dominique Eladari
Vaccinia virus (VV) vaccination is used to immunize against smallpox and historically was considered to have been successful if a skin lesion formed at the vaccination site. While antibody responses have been widely proposed as a correlate of efficacy and protection in humans, the role of cellular and humoral immunity in VV-associated skin lesion formation was unknown. We therefore investigated whether long-term residual humoral and cellular immune memory to VV, persisting 30 years after vaccination, could control VV-induced skin lesion in revaccinated individuals. Here, we have shown that residual VV-specific IFN-γ+TNF-α+ or IFN-γ+IL-2+ CD4+ lymphocytes but not CD8+ effector/memory lymphocytes expressing a skin-homing marker are inversely associated with the size of the skin lesion formed in response to revaccination. Indeed, high numbers of residual effector T cells were associated with lower VV skin lesion size after revaccination. In contrast, long-term residual VV-specific neutralizing antibody (NAbs) titers did not affect skin lesion formation. However, the size of the skin lesion strongly correlated with high levels of NAbs boosted after revaccination. These findings demonstrate a potential role for VV-specific CD4+ responses at the site of VV-associated skin lesion, thereby providing new insight into immune responses at these sites and potentially contributing to the development of new approaches to measure the efficacy of VV vaccination.
Bénédicte Puissant-Lubrano ... Brigitte Autran, Behazine Combadière
Nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain 1 (NOD1) is an intracellular epithelial cell protein known to play a role in host defense at mucosal surfaces. Here we show that a ligand specific for NOD1, a peptide derived from peptidoglycan, initiates an unexpected signaling pathway in human epithelial cell lines that results in the production of type I IFN. Detailed analysis revealed the components of the signaling pathway. NOD1 binding to its ligand triggered activation of the serine-threonine kinase RICK, which was then able to bind TNF receptor–associated factor 3 (TRAF3). This in turn led to activation of TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1) and IκB kinase ε (IKKε) and the subsequent activation of IFN regulatory factor 7 (IRF7). IRF7 induced IFN-β production, which led to activation of a heterotrimeric transcription factor complex known as IFN-stimulated gene factor 3 (ISGF3) and the subsequent production of CXCL10 and additional type I IFN. In vivo studies showed that mice lacking the receptor for IFN-β or subjected to gene silencing of the ISGF3 component Stat1 exhibited decreased CXCL10 responses and increased susceptibility to Helicobacter pylori infection, phenotypes observed in NOD1-deficient mice. These studies thus establish that NOD1 can activate the ISGF3 signaling pathway that is usually associated with protection against viral infection to provide mice with robust type I IFN–mediated protection from H. pylori and possibly other mucosal infections.
Tomohiro Watanabe ... Atsushi Kitani, Warren Strober
The target of neutralizing antibodies that protect against influenza virus infection is the viral protein HA. Genetic and antigenic variation in HA has been used to classify influenza viruses into subtypes (H1–H16). The neutralizing antibody response to influenza virus is thought to be specific for a few antigenically related isolates within a given subtype. However, while heterosubtypic antibodies capable of neutralizing multiple influenza virus subtypes have been recently isolated from phage display libraries, it is not known whether such antibodies are produced in the course of an immune response to influenza virus infection or vaccine. Here we report that, following vaccination with seasonal influenza vaccine containing H1 and H3 influenza virus subtypes, some individuals produce antibodies that cross-react with H5 HA. By immortalizing IgG-expressing B cells from 4 individuals, we isolated 20 heterosubtypic mAbs that bound and neutralized viruses belonging to several HA subtypes (H1, H2, H5, H6, and H9), including the pandemic A/California/07/09 H1N1 isolate. The mAbs used different VH genes and carried a high frequency of somatic mutations. With the exception of a mAb that bound to the HA globular head, all heterosubtypic mAbs bound to acid-sensitive epitopes in the HA stem region. Four mAbs were evaluated in vivo and protected mice from challenge with influenza viruses representative of different subtypes. These findings reveal that seasonal influenza vaccination can induce polyclonal heterosubtypic neutralizing antibodies that cross-react with the swine-origin pandemic H1N1 influenza virus and with the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus.
Davide Corti ... Kanta Subbarao, Antonio Lanzavecchia
Type I IFN has been demonstrated to have major regulatory effects on the outcome of bacterial infections. To assess the effects of exogenously induced type I IFN on the outcome of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection, we treated pathogen-exposed mice intranasally with polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid condensed with poly-l-lysine and carboxymethylcellulose (Poly-ICLC), an agent designed to stimulate prolonged, high-level production of type I IFN. Drug-treated, M. tuberculosis–infected WT mice, but not mice lacking IFN-αβ receptor 1 (IFNαβR; also known as IFNAR1), displayed marked elevations in lung bacillary loads, accompanied by widespread pulmonary necrosis without detectable impairment of Th1 effector function. Importantly, lungs from Poly-ICLC–treated M. tuberculosis–infected mice exhibited a striking increase in CD11b+F4/80+Gr1int cells that displayed decreased MHC II expression and enhanced bacterial levels relative to the same subset of cells purified from infected, untreated controls. Moreover, both the Poly-ICLC–triggered pulmonary recruitment of the CD11b+F4/80+Gr1int population and the accompanying exacerbation of infection correlated with type I IFN–induced upregulation of the chemokine-encoding gene Ccl2 and were dependent on host expression of the chemokine receptor CCR2. The above findings suggest that Poly-ICLC treatment can detrimentally affect the outcome of M. tuberculosis infection, by promoting the accumulation of a permissive myeloid population in the lung. In addition, these data suggest that agents that stimulate type I IFN should be used with caution in patients exposed to this pathogen.
Lis R.V. Antonelli ... Carl G. Feng, Alan Sher
Infectious meningitis and encephalitis is caused by invasion of circulating pathogens into the brain. It is unknown how the circulating pathogens dynamically interact with brain endothelium under shear stress, leading to invasion into the brain. Here, using intravital microscopy, we have shown that Cryptococcus neoformans, a yeast pathogen that causes meningoencephalitis, stops suddenly in mouse brain capillaries of a similar or smaller diameter than the organism, in the same manner and with the same kinetics as polystyrene microspheres, without rolling and tethering to the endothelial surface. Trapping of the yeast pathogen in the mouse brain was not affected by viability or known virulence factors. After stopping in the brain, C. neoformans was seen to cross the capillary wall in real time. In contrast to trapping, viability, but not replication, was essential for the organism to cross the brain microvasculature. Using a knockout strain of C. neoformans, we demonstrated that transmigration into the mouse brain is urease dependent. To determine whether this could be amenable to therapy, we used the urease inhibitor flurofamide. Flurofamide ameliorated infection of the mouse brain by reducing transmigration into the brain. Together, these results suggest that C. neoformans is mechanically trapped in the brain capillary, which may not be amenable to pharmacotherapy, but actively transmigrates to the brain parenchyma with contributions from urease, suggesting that a therapeutic strategy aimed at inhibiting this enzyme could help prevent meningitis and encephalitis caused by C. neoformans infection.
Meiqing Shi ... Paul Kubes, Christopher H. Mody
The lymphatic system plays a key role in tissue fluid homeostasis. Lymphatic dysfunction contributes to the pathogenesis of many human diseases, including lymphedema and tumor metastasis. However, the mechanisms regulating lymphangiogenesis remain largely unknown. Here, we show that COUP-TFII (also known as Nr2f2), an orphan member of the nuclear receptor superfamily, mediates both developmental and pathological lymphangiogenesis in mice. Conditional ablation of COUP-TFII at an early embryonic stage resulted in failed formation of pre-lymphatic ECs (pre-LECs) and lymphatic vessels. COUP-TFII deficiency at a late developmental stage resulted in loss of LEC identity, gain of blood EC fate, and impaired lymphatic vessel sprouting. siRNA-mediated downregulation of COUP-TFII in cultured primary human LECs demonstrated that the maintenance of lymphatic identity and VEGF-C–induced lymphangiogenic activity, including cell proliferation and migration, are COUP-TFII–dependent and cell-autonomous processes. COUP-TFII enhanced the pro-lymphangiogenic actions of VEGF-C, at least in part by directly stimulating expression of neuropilin-2, a coreceptor for VEGF-C. In addition, COUP-TFII inactivation in a mammary gland mouse tumor model resulted in inhibition of tumor lymphangiogenesis, suggesting that COUP-TFII also regulates neo-lymphangiogenesis in the adult. Thus, COUP-TFII is a critical factor that controls lymphangiogenesis in embryonic development and tumorigenesis in adults.
Fu-Jung Lin, Xinpu Chen, Jun Qin, Young-Kwon Hong, Ming-Jer Tsai, Sophia Y. Tsai
At least 10 enteroendocrine cell types have been identified, and the peptide hormones they secrete have diverse functions that include regulation of glucose homeostasis, food intake, and gastric emptying. Mice lacking individual enteroendocrine hormones, their receptors, or combinations of these have shed light on the role of these hormones in the regulation of energy homeostasis. However, because enteroendocrine hormones have partially overlapping functions, these loss-of-function studies produced only minor phenotypes, and none of the enteroendocrine hormones was shown to be essential for life. To examine the effect of loss of all enteroendocrine cells and hormones on energy homeostasis, we generated mice with intestinal-specific ablation of the proendocrine transcription factor neurogenin 3 (referred to herein as Ngn3Δint mice). Ngn3Δint mice were deficient for all enteroendocrine cells and hormones, and died with a high frequency during the first week of life. Mutant mice were growth retarded and had yellowish stool suggestive of steatorrhea. Subsequent analyses revealed that Ngn3Δint mice had impaired lipid absorption, reduced weight gain, and improved glucose homeostasis. Furthermore, intestinal epithelium of the mutant mice showed an enlarged proliferative crypt compartment and accelerated cell turnover but no changes to goblet and Paneth cell numbers. Enterocytes had shorter microvilli, but the expression of the main brush border enzymes was unaffected. Our data help unravel the role of enteroendocrine cells and hormones in lipid absorption and maintenance of the intestinal epithelium.
Georg Mellitzer ... Michèle Kedinger, Gérard Gradwohl
Anion transport by the colonic mucosa maintains the hydration and pH of the colonic lumen, and its disruption causes a variety of diarrheal diseases. Cholinergic agonists raise cytosolic Ca2+ levels and stimulate anion secretion, but the mechanisms underlying this effect remain unclear. Cholinergic stimulation of anion secretion may occur via activation of Ca2+-activated Cl– channels (CaCCs) or an increase in the Cl– driving force through CFTR after activation of Ca2+-dependent K+ channels. Here we investigated the role of a candidate CaCC protein, bestrophin-2 (Best2), using Best2–/– mice. Cholinergic stimulation of anion current was greatly reduced in Best2–/– mice, consistent with our proposed role for Best2 as a CaCC. However, immunostaining revealed Best2 localized to the basolateral membrane of mucin-secreting colonic goblet cells, not the apical membrane of Cl–-secreting enterocytes. In addition, in the absence of HCO3–, cholinergic-activated current was identical in control and Best2–/– tissue preparations, which suggests that most of the Best2 current was carried by HCO3–. These data delineate an alternative model of cholinergic regulation of colonic anion secretion in which goblet cells play a critical role in HCO3– homeostasis. We therefore propose that Best2 is a HCO3– channel that works in concert with a Cl:HCO3– exchanger in the apical membrane to affect transcellular HCO3– transport. Furthermore, previous models implicating CFTR in cholinergic Cl– secretion may be explained by substantial downregulation of Best2 in Cftr–/– mice.
Kuai Yu, Rafael Lujan, Alan Marmorstein, Sherif Gabriel, H. Criss Hartzell
Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), which is the leading cause of death in premature infants, is caused by surfactant deficiency. The most critical and abundant phospholipid in pulmonary surfactant is saturated phosphatidylcholine (SatPC), which is synthesized in alveolar type II cells de novo or by the deacylation-reacylation of existing phosphatidylcholine species. We recently cloned and partially characterized a mouse enzyme with characteristics of a lung lysophosphatidylcholine acyltransferase (LPCAT1) that we predicted would be involved in surfactant synthesis. Here, we describe our studies investigating whether LPCAT1 is required for pulmonary surfactant homeostasis. To address this issue, we generated mice bearing a hypomorphic allele of Lpcat1 (referred to herein as Lpcat1GT/GT mice) using a genetrap strategy. Newborn Lpcat1GT/GT mice showed varying perinatal mortality from respiratory failure, with affected animals demonstrating hallmarks of respiratory distress such as atelectasis and hyaline membranes. Lpcat1 mRNA levels were reduced in newborn Lpcat1GT/GT mice and directly correlated with SatPC content, LPCAT1 activity, and survival. Surfactant isolated from dead Lpcat1GT/GT mice failed to reduce minimum surface tension to wild-type levels. Collectively, these data demonstrate that full LPCAT1 activity is required to achieve the levels of SatPC essential for the transition to air breathing.
James P. Bridges, Machiko Ikegami, Lauren L. Brilli, Xueni Chen, Robert J. Mason, John M. Shannon
Glutaredoxin 5 (GLRX5) deficiency has previously been identified as a cause of anemia in a zebrafish model and of sideroblastic anemia in a human patient. Here we report that GLRX5 is essential for iron-sulfur cluster biosynthesis and the maintenance of normal mitochondrial and cytosolic iron homeostasis in human cells. GLRX5, a mitochondrial protein that is highly expressed in erythroid cells, can homodimerize and assemble [2Fe-2S] in vitro. In GLRX5-deficient cells, [Fe-S] cluster biosynthesis was impaired, the iron-responsive element–binding (IRE-binding) activity of iron regulatory protein 1 (IRP1) was activated, and increased IRP2 levels, indicative of relative cytosolic iron depletion, were observed together with mitochondrial iron overload. Rescue of patient fibroblasts with the WT GLRX5 gene by transfection or viral transduction reversed a slow growth phenotype, reversed the mitochondrial iron overload, and increased aconitase activity. Decreased aminolevulinate δ, synthase 2 (ALAS2) levels attributable to IRP-mediated translational repression were observed in erythroid cells in which GLRX5 expression had been downregulated using siRNA along with marked reduction in ferrochelatase levels and increased ferroportin expression. Erythroblasts express both IRP-repressible ALAS2 and non-IRP–repressible ferroportin 1b. The unique combination of IRP targets likely accounts for the tissue-specific phenotype of human GLRX5 deficiency.
Hong Ye ... Clara Camaschella, Tracey A. Rouault
Staphylococcus aureus is the most common cause of skin and soft tissue infections, and rapidly emerging antibiotic-resistant strains are creating a serious public health concern. If immune-based therapies are to be an alternative to antibiotics, greater understanding is needed of the protective immune response against S. aureus infection in the skin. Although neutrophil recruitment is required for immunity against S. aureus, a role for T cells has been suggested. Here, we used a mouse model of S. aureus cutaneous infection to investigate the contribution of T cells to host defense. We found that mice deficient in γδ but not αβ T cells had substantially larger skin lesions with higher bacterial counts and impaired neutrophil recruitment compared with WT mice. This neutrophil recruitment was dependent upon epidermal Vγ5+ γδ T cell production of IL-17, but not IL-21 and IL-22. Furthermore, IL-17 induction required IL-1, TLR2, and IL-23 and was critical for host defense, since IL-17R–deficient mice had a phenotype similar to that of γδ T cell–deficient mice. Importantly, γδ T cell–deficient mice inoculated with S. aureus and treated with a single dose of recombinant IL-17 had lesion sizes and bacterial counts resembling those of WT mice, demonstrating that IL-17 could restore the impaired immunity in these mice. Our study defines what we believe to be a novel role for IL-17–producing epidermal γδ T cells in innate immunity against S. aureus cutaneous infection.
John S. Cho ... Robert L. Modlin, Lloyd S. Miller
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) activates the receptor tropomyosin-related kinase B (TrkB) with high potency and specificity, promoting neuronal survival, differentiation, and synaptic function. Correlations between altered BDNF expression and/or function and mechanism(s) underlying numerous neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer disease and traumatic brain injury, suggest that TrkB agonists might have therapeutic potential. Using in silico screening with a BDNF loop–domain pharmacophore, followed by low-throughput in vitro screening in mouse fetal hippocampal neurons, we have efficiently identified small molecules with nanomolar neurotrophic activity specific to TrkB versus other Trk family members. Neurotrophic activity was dependent on TrkB and its downstream targets, although compound-induced signaling activation kinetics differed from those triggered by BDNF. A selected prototype compound demonstrated binding specificity to the extracellular domain of TrkB. In in vitro models of neurodegenerative disease, it prevented neuronal degeneration with efficacy equal to that of BDNF, and when administered in vivo, it caused hippocampal and striatal TrkB activation in mice and improved motor learning after traumatic brain injury in rats. These studies demonstrate the utility of loop modeling in drug discovery and reveal what we believe to be the first reported small molecules derived from a targeted BDNF domain that specifically activate TrkB.We propose that these compounds constitute a novel group of tools for the study of TrkB signaling and may provide leads for developing new therapeutic agents for neurodegenerative diseases.
Stephen M. Massa ... Jayakumar Rajadas, Frank M. Longo
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