Redox regulation of age-associated defects in generation and maintenance of T cell self-tolerance and immunity to foreign antigens
Allison K. Hester, Manpreet K. Semwal, Sergio Cepeda, Yangming Xiao, Meghan Rueda, Kymberly Wimberly, Thomas Venables, Thamotharampillai Dileepan, Ellen Kraig, Ann V. Griffith.
Cell Reports. 2022 Feb 15;38(7):110363.


Thymic atrophy reduces naive T cell production and contributes to increased susceptibility to viral infection with age. Expression of tissue-restricted antigen (TRA) genes also declines with age and has been thought to increase autoimmune disease susceptibility. We find that diminished expression of a model TRA gene in aged thymic stromal cells correlates with impaired clonal deletion of cognate T cells recognizing an autoantigen involved in atherosclerosis. Clonal deletion in the polyclonal thymocyte population is also perturbed. Distinct age-associated defects in the generation of antigen-specific T cells include a conspicuous decline in generation of T cells recognizing an immunodominant influenza epitope. Increased catalase activity delays thymic atrophy, and here, we show that it mitigates declining production of influenza-specific T cells and their frequency in lung after infection, but does not reverse declines in TRA expression or efficient negative selection. These results reveal important considerations for strategies to restore thymic function.

Keywords: autoimmunity; central tolerance; immunosenescence; thymus.

Restoration of mitophagy ameliorates cardiomyopathy in Barth syndrome
Jun Zhang, Xueling Liu, Jia Nie, Yuguang Shi
Autophagy. 2022 Jan 5;1-16. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2021.2020979. Online ahead of print.


Barth syndrome (BTHS) is an X-linked genetic disorder caused by mutations in the TAFAZZIN/Taz gene which encodes a transacylase required for cardiolipin remodeling. Cardiolipin is a mitochondrial signature phospholipid that plays a pivotal role in maintaining mitochondrial membrane structure, respiration, mtDNA biogenesis, and mitophagy. Mutations in the TAFAZZIN gene deplete mature cardiolipin, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction, dilated cardiomyopathy, and premature death in BTHS patients. Currently, there is no effective treatment for this debilitating condition. In this study, we showed that TAFAZZIN deficiency caused hyperactivation of MTORC1 signaling and defective mitophagy, leading to accumulation of autophagic vacuoles and dysfunctional mitochondria in the heart of Tafazzin knockdown mice, a rodent model of BTHS. Consequently, treatment of TAFAZZIN knockdown mice with rapamycin, a potent inhibitor of MTORC1, not only restored mitophagy, but also mitigated mitochondrial dysfunction and dilated cardiomyopathy. Taken together, these findings identify MTORC1 as a novel therapeutic target for BTHS, suggesting that pharmacological restoration of mitophagy may provide a novel treatment for BTHS.

LRG1 is an adipokine that mediates obesity-induced hepatosteatosis and insulin resistance
Sijia He, Jiyoon Ryu, Juanhong Liu, Hairong Luo, Ying Lv, Paul R Langlais, Jie Wen, Feng Dong, Zhe Sun, Wenjuan Xia, Jane L Lynch, Ravindranath Duggirala, Bruce J Nicholson, Mengwei Zang, Yuguang Shi, Fang Zhang, Feng Liu, Juli Bai, Lily Q Dong.
J Clin Invest. 2021;131(24):e148545.


Dysregulation in adipokine biosynthesis and function contributes to obesity-induced metabolic diseases. However, the identities and functions of many of the obesity-induced secretory molecules remain unknown. Here, we report the identification of leucine-rich alpha-2-glycoprotein 1 (LRG1) as an obesity-associated adipokine that exacerbates high fat diet–induced hepatosteatosis and insulin resistance. Serum levels of LRG1 were markedly elevated in obese humans and mice compared with their respective controls. LRG1 deficiency in mice greatly alleviated diet-induced hepatosteatosis, obesity, and insulin resistance. Mechanistically, LRG1 bound with high selectivity to the liver and promoted hepatosteatosis by increasing de novo lipogenesis and suppressing fatty acid β-oxidation. LRG1 also inhibited hepatic insulin signaling by downregulating insulin receptor substrates 1 and 2. Our study identified LRG1 as a key molecule that mediates the crosstalk between adipocytes and hepatocytes in diet-induced hepatosteatosis and insulin resistance. Suppressing LRG1 expression and function may be a promising strategy for the treatment of obesity-related metabolic diseases.

The Insulin-Sensitizer Pioglitazone Remodels Adipose Tissue Phospholipids in Humans
Juan P. Palavicini, Alberto Chavez-Velazquez, Marcel Fourcaudot, Devjit Tripathy, Meixia Pan, Luke Norton, Ralph A. DeFronzo and Christopher E. Shannon
Frontiers in Physiology, 02 December 2021 | DOI:


The insulin-sensitizer pioglitazone exerts its cardiometabolic benefits in type 2 diabetes (T2D) through a redistribution of body fat, from ectopic and visceral areas to subcutaneous adipose depots. Whereas excessive weight gain and lipid storage in obesity promotes insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, the expansion of subcutaneous adipose by pioglitazone is associated with a reversal of these immunometabolic deficits. The precise events driving this beneficial remodeling of adipose tissue with pioglitazone remain unclear, and whether insulin-sensitizers alter the lipidomic composition of human adipose has not previously been investigated. Using shotgun lipidomics, we explored the molecular lipid responses in subcutaneous adipose tissue following 6months of pioglitazone treatment (45mg/day) in obese humans with T2D. Despite an expected increase in body weight following pioglitazone treatment, no robust effects were observed on the composition of storage lipids (i.e., triglycerides) or the content of lipotoxic lipid species (e.g., ceramides and diacylglycerides) in adipose tissue. Instead, pioglitazone caused a selective remodeling of the glycerophospholipid pool, characterized by a decrease in lipids enriched for arachidonic acid, such as plasmanylethanolamines and phosphatidylinositols. This contributed to a greater overall saturation and shortened chain length of fatty acyl groups within cell membrane lipids, changes that are consistent with the purported induction of adipogenesis by pioglitazone. The mechanism through which pioglitazone lowered adipose tissue arachidonic acid, a major modulator of inflammatory pathways, did not involve alterations in phospholipase gene expression but was associated with a reduction in its precursor linoleic acid, an effect that was also observed in skeletal muscle samples from the same subjects. These findings offer important insights into the biological mechanisms through which pioglitazone protects the immunometabolic health of adipocytes in the face of increased lipid storage.

Cardiolipin remodeling by ALCAT1 links hypoxia to coronary artery disease by promoting mitochondrial dysfunction
Dandan Jia, Jun Zhang, Jia Nie, John-Paul Andersen, Samantha Rendon, Yue Zheng, Xueling Liu, Zhenjun Tian, Yuguang Shi
Molecular Therapy. 2021 Dec 1;29(12):3498-3511. doi: 10.1016/j.ymthe.2021.06.007. Epub 2021 Jun 8.


Cardiolipin is a mitochondrial signature phospholipid that plays a pivotal role in maintaining cardiac health. A loss of tetralinoleoyl cardiolipin (TLCL), the predominant cardiolipin species in the healthy mammalian heart, is implicated in the pathogenesis of coronary heart disease (CHD) through poorly defined mechanisms. Here, we identified acyl-coenzyme A:lysocardiolipin acyltransferase-1 (ALCAT1) as the missing link between hypoxia and CHD in an animal model of myocardial infarction (MI). ALCAT1 is an acyltransferase that promotes mitochondrial dysfunction in aging-related diseases by catalyzing pathological remodeling of cardiolipin. In support of a causative role of ALCAT1 in CHD, we showed that ALCAT1 expression was potently upregulated by MI, linking myocardial hypoxia to oxidative stress, TLCL depletion, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Accordingly, ablation of the ALCAT1 gene or pharmacological inhibition of the ALCAT1 enzyme by Dafaglitapin (Dafa), a potent and highly specific ALCAT1 inhibitor, not only restored TLCL levels but also mitochondrial respiration by attenuating signal transduction pathways mediated by hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α). Consequently, ablation or pharmacological inhibition of ALCAT1 by Dafa effectively mitigated CHD and its underlying pathogenesis, including dilated cardiomyopathy, left ventricle dysfunction, myocardial inflammation, fibrosis, and apoptosis. Together, the findings have provided the first proof-of-concept studies for targeting ALCAT1 as an effective treatment for CHD.

Keywords: apoptosis; cardiac function; cardiolipin; inflammation; mitochondrial dysfunction; myocardial infarction.

Pathogenic tau accelerates aging-associated activation of transposable elements in the mouse central nervous system.
Paulino Ramirez, Gabrielle Zuniga, Wenyan Sun, Adrian Beckmann, Elizabeth Ochoa, Sarah L. DeVos, Bradley Hyman, Gabriel Chiu, Ethan R. Roy, Wei Cao, Miranda Orr, Virginie Buggia-Prevot, William J. Ray, and Bess Frost.
Progress in Neurobiology. Available online 17 October 2021.


Transposable elements comprise almost half of the mammalian genome. A growing body of evidence suggests that transposable element dysregulation accompanies brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders, and that transposable element activation is neurotoxic. Recent studies have identified links between pathogenic forms of tau, a protein that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease and related “tauopathies,” and transposable element-induced neurotoxicity. Starting with transcriptomic analyses, we find that age- and tau-induced transposable element activation occurs in the mouse brain. Among transposable elements that are activated at the RNA level in the context of brain aging and tauopathy, we find that the endogenous retrovirus (ERV) class of retrotransposons is particularly enriched. We show that protein encoded by Intracisternal A-particle, a highly active mouse ERV, is elevated in brains of tau transgenic mice. Using two complementary approaches, we find that brains of tau transgenic mice contain increased DNA copy number of transposable elements, raising the possibility that these elements actively retrotranspose in the context of tauopathy. Taken together, our study lays the groundwork for future mechanistic studies focused on transposable element regulation in the aging mouse brain and in mouse models of tauopathy and provides support for ongoing therapeutic efforts targeting transposable element activation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Insulin Resistance in Skeletal Muscle Selectively Protects the Heart in Response to Metabolic Stress
Dandan Jia, Jun Zhang, Xueling Liu, John-Paul Andersen, Zhenjun Tian, Jia Nie, Yuguang Shi
Diabetes. 2021 Oct;70(10):2333-2343. doi: 10.2337/db20-1212. Epub 2021 Jul 8.


Obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) are the leading causes of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Although insulin resistance is believed to underlie these disorders, anecdotal evidence contradicts this common belief. Accordingly, obese patients with cardiovascular disease have better prognoses relative to leaner patients with the same diagnoses, whereas treatment of T2DM patients with thiazolidinedione, one of the popular insulin-sensitizer drugs, significantly increases the risk of heart failure. Using mice with skeletal musclespecific ablation of the insulin receptor gene (MIRKO), we addressed this paradox by demonstrating that insulin signaling in skeletal muscles specifically mediated cross talk with the heart, but not other metabolic tissues, to prevent cardiac dysfunction in response to metabolic stress. Despite severe hyperinsulinemia and aggregating obesity, MIRKO mice were protected from myocardial insulin resistance, mitochondrial dysfunction, and metabolic reprogramming in response to diet-induced obesity. Consequently, the MIRKO mice were also protected from myocardial inflammation, cardiomyopathy, and left ventricle dysfunction. Together, our findings suggest that insulin resistance in skeletal muscle functions as a double-edged sword in metabolic diseases.

Adult-onset CNS myelin sulfatide deficiency is sufficient to cause Alzheimer’s disease-like neuroinflammation and cognitive impairment.
Shulan Qiu, Juan Pablo Palavicini, Jianing Wang, Nancy S. Gonzalez, Sijia He, Elizabeth Dustin, Cheng Zou, Lin Ding, Anindita Bhattacharjee, Candice E. Van Skike, Veronica Galvan, Jeffrey L. Dupree & Xianlin Han.
Molecular Neurodegeneration, 2021 Sep 15;16(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s13024-021-00488-7.
PMID: 34526055 PMCID: PMC8442347


Background: Human genetic association studies point to immune response and lipid metabolism, in addition to amyloid-beta (Aβ) and tau, as major pathways in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) etiology. Accumulating evidence suggests that chronic neuroinflammation, mainly mediated by microglia and astrocytes, plays a causative role in neurodegeneration in AD. Our group and others have reported early and dramatic losses of brain sulfatide in AD cases and animal models that are mediated by ApoE in an isoform-dependent manner and accelerated by Aβ accumulation. To date, it remains unclear if changes in specific brain lipids are sufficient to drive AD-related pathology.

Methods: To study the consequences of CNS sulfatide deficiency and gain insights into the underlying mechanisms, we developed a novel mouse model of adult-onset myelin sulfatide deficiency, i.e., tamoxifen-inducible myelinating glia-specific cerebroside sulfotransferase (CST) conditional knockout mice (CSTfl/fl/Plp1-CreERT), took advantage of constitutive CST knockout mice (CST-/-), and generated CST/ApoE double knockout mice (CST-/-/ApoE-/-), and assessed these mice using a broad range of methodologies including lipidomics, RNA profiling, behavioral testing, PLX3397-mediated microglia depletion, mass spectrometry (MS) imaging, immunofluorescence, electron microscopy, and Western blot.

Results: We found that mild central nervous system (CNS) sulfatide losses within myelinating cells are sufficient to activate disease-associated microglia and astrocytes, and to increase the expression of AD risk genes (e.g., Apoe, Trem2, Cd33, and Mmp12), as well as previously established causal regulators of the immune/microglia network in late-onset AD (e.g., Tyrobp, Dock, and Fcerg1), leading to chronic AD-like neuroinflammation and mild cognitive impairment. Notably, neuroinflammation and mild cognitive impairment showed gender differences, being more pronounced in females than males. Subsequent mechanistic studies demonstrated that although CNS sulfatide losses led to ApoE upregulation, genetically-induced myelin sulfatide deficiency led to neuroinflammation independently of ApoE. These results, together with our previous studies (sulfatide deficiency in the context of AD is mediated by ApoE and accelerated by Aβ accumulation) placed both Aβ and ApoE upstream of sulfatide deficiency-induced neuroinflammation, and suggested a positive feedback loop where sulfatide losses may be amplified by increased ApoE expression. We also demonstrated that CNS sulfatide deficiency-induced astrogliosis and ApoE upregulation are not secondary to microgliosis, and that astrogliosis and microgliosis seem to be driven by activation of STAT3 and PU.1/Spi1 transcription factors, respectively.

Conclusion: Our results strongly suggest that sulfatide deficiency is an important contributor and driver of neuroinflammation and mild cognitive impairment in AD pathology.

The treatment of neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction in persons with spinal cord injury: An open label, pilot study of anticholinergic agent vs. mirabegron to evaluate cognitive impact and efficacy.
Michelle Trbovich, Terry Romo, Marsha Polk, Wouter Koek, Che Kelly, Sharon Stowe, Stephen Kraus, Dean Kellogg.
Spinal Cord Series and Cases. 2021 Jun 10;7(1):50. doi: 10.1038/s41394-021-00413-6.
PMID: 34112758 PMCID: PMC8192499 (available on 2022-06-10)


Study design: Pre-post intervention

Objectives: 1. To test whether replacement of oral anticholinergic (AC) agents with mirabegron for neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction (NLUTD) yields improved cognitive function in older persons with spinal cord injury (SCI). 2. To test whether mirabegron is safe and as efficacious as AC.

Settings: USA.

Methods: Pilot study: Twenty older (>60 y/o) persons with SCI taking chronic (>6 months) AC medication for NLUTD were enrolled. All participants were first studied on AC at baseline then switched to mirabegron for 6 months. Primary outcomes were cognitive tests of (1) executive function (TEXAS, SDMT); (2) attention (SCWT); and (3) memory (SLUMS and WMS-IV Story A/B). Secondary outcomes assessed efficacy and safety including Neurogenic Bladder Symptom Score (NBSS), bladder diary, neurogenic bowel dysfunction (NBD) survey, heart rate (HR), electrocardiogram (EKG), and mean arterial pressure (MAP).

Results: When switching from AC to mirabegron for NLUTD, older persons with SCI exhibited statistically significant improvements in immediate Story A recall (p = 0.01), delayed story A and B recall (p = 0.01, 0.004), and in TEXAS (p = 0.04). Three subscores within NBSS significantly improved (p = 0.001) and the frequency of incontinence decreased (p = 0.03) on mirabegron. NBD, HR, MAP, and EKGs were unchanged.

Conclusion: Older persons with SCI on AC for NLUTD demonstrated improved short-term and delayed memory (WMS-IV Story A/B) as well as executive function (TEXAS) when switched to mirabegron. Efficacy of mirabegron for NLUTD symptoms was superior to AC with no adverse effects on bowel or cardiovascular function.

Sponsorship: Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.

Age and sex modify cellular proliferation responses to oxidative stress and glucocorticoid challenges in baboon cells
Daniel A Adekunbi, Cun Li, Peter W Nathanielsz, Adam B Salmon
Geroscience. 2021 Aug;43(4):2067-2085. doi: 10.1007/s11357-021-00395-1. Epub 2021 Jun 5.


Aging is associated with progressive loss of cellular homeostasis resulting from intrinsic and extrinsic challenges. Lack of a carefully designed, well-characterized, precise, translational experimental model is a major limitation to understanding the cellular perturbations that characterize aging. Here, we tested the feasibility of primary fibroblasts isolated from nonhuman primates (baboons) as a model of cellular resilience in response to homeostatic challenge. Using a real-time live-cell imaging system, we precisely defined a protocol for testing effects of prooxidant compounds (e.g., hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), paraquat), thapsigargin, dexamethasone, and a low glucose environment on cell proliferation in fibroblasts derived from baboons across the life course (n = 11/sex). Linear regression analysis indicated that donor age significantly reduced the ability of cells to proliferate following exposure to H2O2 (50 and 100 µM) and paraquat (100 and 200 µM) challenges in cells from males (6.4-21.3 years; average lifespan 21 years) but not cells from females (4.3-15.9 years). Inhibitory effects of thapsigargin on cell proliferation were dependent on challenge duration (2 vs 24 h) and concentration (0.1 and 1 µM). Cells from older females (14.4-15.9 years) exhibited greater resilience to thapsigargin (1 µM; 24 h) and dexamethasone (500 µM) challenges than did those from younger females (4.3-6.7 years). The cell proliferation response to low glucose (1 mM) was reduced with age in both sexes. These data indicate that donor’s chronological age and sex are important variables in determining fibroblast responses to metabolite and other challenges.

Keywords: Aging; Baboon; Cell proliferation; Fibroblast; Oxidative stress; Resilience.

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