Pathogenic tau-induced piRNA depletion promotes neuronal death through transposable element dysregulation in neurodegenerative tauopathies.
Sun W, Samimi H, Gamez M, Zare H, Frost B
Nature Neuroscience. 2018 Aug;21(8):1038-1048. doi: 10.1038/s41593-018-0194-1. Epub 2018 Jul 23.
PMCID: PMC6095477


Transposable elements, known colloquially as ‘jumping genes’, constitute approximately 45% of the human genome. Cells utilize epigenetic defenses to limit transposable element jumping, including formation of silencing heterochromatin and generation of piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), small RNAs that facilitate clearance of transposable element transcripts. Here we utilize Drosophila melanogaster and postmortem human brain samples to identify transposable element dysregulation as a key mediator of neuronal death in tauopathies, a group of neurodegenerative disorders that are pathologically characterized by deposits of tau protein in the brain. Mechanistically, we find that heterochromatin decondensation and reduction of piwi and piRNAs drive transposable element dysregulation in tauopathy. We further report a significant increase in transcripts of the endogenous retrovirus class of transposable elements in human Alzheimer’s disease and progressive supranuclear palsy, suggesting that transposable element dysregulation is conserved in human tauopathy. Taken together, our data identify heterochromatin decondensation, piwi and piRNA depletion and consequent transposable element dysregulation as a pharmacologically targetable, mechanistic driver of neurodegeneration in tauopathy.

Hepatic ketogenic insufficiency reprograms hepatic glycogen metabolism and the lipidome.
d’Avignon DA, Puchalska P, Ercal B, Chang Y, Martin SE, Graham MJ, Patti GJ, Han X, Crawford PA
JCI Insight. 2018 Jun 21;3(12). pii: 99762. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.99762. [Epub ahead of print]


While several molecular targets are under consideration, mechanistic underpinnings of the transition from uncomplicated nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) remain unresolved. Here we apply multiscale chemical profiling technologies to mouse models of deranged hepatic ketogenesis to uncover potential NAFLD driver signatures. Use of stable-isotope tracers, quantitatively tracked by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, supported previous observations that livers of wild-type mice maintained long term on a high-fat diet (HFD) exhibit a marked increase in hepatic energy charge. Fed-state ketogenesis rates increased nearly 3-fold in livers of HFD-fed mice, a greater proportionate increase than that observed for tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle flux, but both of these contributors to overall hepatic energy homeostasis fueled markedly increased hepatic glucose production (HGP). Thus, to selectively determine the role of the ketogenic conduit on HGP and oxidative hepatic fluxes, we studied a ketogenesis-insufficient mouse model generated by knockdown of the mitochondrial isoform of 3-hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA synthase (HMGCS2). In response to ketogenic insufficiency, TCA cycle flux in the fed state doubled and HGP increased more than 60%, sourced by a 3-fold increase in glycogenolysis. Finally, high-resolution untargeted metabolomics and shotgun lipidomics performed using ketogenesis-insufficient livers in the fed state revealed accumulation of bis(monoacylglycero)phosphates, which also accumulated in livers of other models commonly used to study NAFLD. In summary, natural and interventional variations in ketogenesis in the fed state strongly influence hepatic energy homeostasis, glucose metabolism, and the lipidome. Importantly, HGP remains tightly linked to overall hepatic energy charge, which includes both terminal fat oxidation through the TCA cycle and partial oxidation via ketogenesis.

Hydrogen sulfide ameliorates aging-associated changes in the kidney.
Lee HJ, Feliers D, Barnes JL, Oh S, Choudhury GG2, Diaz V, Galvan V, Strong R, Nelson J, Salmon A, Kevil CG, Kasinath BS
Geroscience. 2018 Apr;40(2):163-176. doi: 10.1007/s11357-018-0018-y. Epub 2018 May 1.
PMCID: PMC5964063


Aging is associated with replacement of normal kidney parenchyma by fibrosis. Because hydrogen sulfide (H2S) ameliorates kidney fibrosis in disease models, we examined its status in the aging kidney. In the first study, we examined kidney cortical H2S metabolism and signaling pathways related to synthesis of proteins including matrix proteins in young and old male C57BL/6 mice. In old mice, increase in renal cortical content of matrix protein involved in fibrosis was associated with decreased H2S generation and AMPK activity, and activation of insulin receptor (IR)/IRS-2-Akt-mTORC1-mRNA translation signaling axis that can lead to increase in protein synthesis. In the second study, we randomized 18-19 month-old male C57BL/6 mice to receive 30 μmol/L sodium hydrosulfide (NaHS) in drinking water vs. water alone (control) for 5 months. Administration of NaHS increased plasma free sulfide levels. NaHS inhibited the increase in kidney cortical content of matrix proteins involved in fibrosis and ameliorated glomerulosclerosis. NaHS restored AMPK activity and inhibited activation of IR/IRS-2-Akt-mTORC1-mRNA translation axis. NaHS inhibited age-related increase in kidney cortical content of p21, IL-1β, and IL-6, components of the senescence-associated secretory phenotype. NaHS abolished increase in urinary albumin excretion seen in control mice and reduced serum cystatin C levels suggesting improved glomerular clearance function. We conclude that aging-induced changes in the kidney are associated with H2S deficiency. Administration of H2S ameliorates aging-induced kidney changes probably by inhibiting signaling pathways leading to matrix protein synthesis.

Inhibition of mTOR protects the blood-brain barrier in models of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular cognitive impairment.
Van Skike CE, Jahrling JB, Olson AB, Sayre NL, Hussong SA, Ungvari Z, Lechleiter JD, Galvan V
Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018 Apr 1;314(4):H693-H703. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00570.2017. Epub 2017 Dec 22.


An intact blood-brain barrier (BBB) limits entry of proinflammatory and neurotoxic blood-derived factors into the brain parenchyma. The BBB is damaged in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which contributes significantly to the progression of AD pathologies and cognitive decline. However, the mechanisms underlying BBB breakdown in AD remain elusive, and no interventions are available for treatment or prevention. We and others recently established that inhibition of the mammalian/mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway with rapamycin yields significant neuroprotective effects, improving cerebrovascular and cognitive function in mouse models of AD. To test whether mTOR inhibition protects the BBB in neurological diseases of aging, we treated hAPP(J20) mice modeling AD and low-density lipoprotein receptor-null (LDLR-/-) mice modeling vascular cognitive impairment with rapamycin. We found that inhibition of mTOR abrogates BBB breakdown in hAPP(J20) and LDLR-/- mice. Experiments using an in vitro BBB model indicated that mTOR attenuation preserves BBB integrity through upregulation of specific tight junction proteins and downregulation of matrix metalloproteinase-9 activity. Together, our data establish mTOR activity as a critical mediator of BBB breakdown in AD and, potentially, vascular cognitive impairment and suggest that rapamycin and/or rapalogs could be used for the restoration of BBB integrity. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This report establishes mammalian/mechanistic target of rapamycin as a critical mediator of blood-brain barrier breakdown in models of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular cognitive impairment and suggests that drugs targeting the target of rapamycin pathway could be used for the restoration of blood-brain barrier integrity in disease states.

Enhanced coverage of lipid analysis and imaging by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry via a strategy with an optimized mixture of matrices.
Wang J, Wang C, Han X
Analytica Chimica Acta. 2018 Feb 13;1000:155-162. doi: 10.1016/j.aca.2017.09.046. Epub 2017 Oct 17.


In matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI MS) analysis and imaging of lipids, comprehensive ionization of lipids simultaneously by a universal matrix is a very challenging problem. Ion suppression of readily ionizable lipids to others is common. To overcome this obstacle and enhance the coverage of MALDI MS analysis and imaging of lipids, we developed a novel strategy employing a mixture of matrices, each of which is capable of selective ionization of different lipid classes. Given that MALDI MS with either 9-aminoacridine (9-AA) or N-(1-naphthyl) ethylenediamine dihydrochloride (NEDC) yields weak in-source decay which is critical for analysis of complex biological samples and possesses orthogonal selectivity for ionization of lipid classes, we tested the mixtures of NEDC and 9-AA with different ratios for analysis of standard lipids and mouse brain lipid extracts. We determined 1.35 of NEDC/9-AA as an optimized molar ratio. It was demonstrated that an enhanced coverage with the optimized mixture was obtained, which enabled us to analyze and map all the major classes of phospholipids and sulfatide from either lipid extracts or tissue slides, respectively. We believe that this powerful novel strategy can enhance lipidomics analysis and MALDI MS imaging of lipids in a high-throughput and semi-quantitative fashion.

mTOR drives cerebral blood flow and memory deficits in LDLR-/- mice modeling atherosclerosis and vascular cognitive impairment.
Jahrling JB, Lin AL, DeRosa N, Hussong SA, Van Skike CE, Girotti M, Javors M, Zhao Q, Maslin LA, Asmis R, Galvan V
Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. 2018 Jan;38(1):58-74. doi: 10.1177/0271678X17705973. Epub 2017 May 17.


We recently showed that mTOR attenuation blocks progression and abrogates established cognitive deficits in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) mouse models. These outcomes were associated with the restoration of cerebral blood flow (CBF) and brain vascular density (BVD) resulting from relief of mTOR inhibition of NO release. Recent reports suggested a role of mTOR in atherosclerosis. Because mTOR drives aging and vascular dysfunction is a universal feature of aging, we hypothesized that mTOR may contribute to brain vascular and cognitive dysfunction associated with atherosclerosis. We measured CBF, BVD, cognitive function, markers of inflammation, and parameters of cardiovascular disease in LDLR-/- mice fed maintenance or high-fat diet ± rapamycin. Cardiovascular pathologies were proportional to severity of brain vascular dysfunction. Aortic atheromas were reduced, CBF and BVD were restored, and cognitive dysfunction was attenuated potentially through reduction in systemic and brain inflammation following chronic mTOR attenuation. Our studies suggest that mTOR regulates vascular integrity and function and that mTOR attenuation may restore neurovascular function and cardiovascular health. Together with our previous studies in AD models, our data suggest mTOR-driven vascular damage may be a mechanism shared by age-associated neurological diseases. Therefore, mTOR attenuation may have promise for treatment of cognitive impairment in atherosclerosis.

The development of a specific pathogen free (SPF) barrier colony of marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) for aging research.
Ross CN, Austad S, Brasky K, Brown CJ, Forney LJ, Gelfond JA, Lanford R, Richardson A, Tardif SD
Aging (Albany NY). 2017 Dec 7;9(12):2544-2558. doi: 10.18632/aging.101340.


A specific pathogen free (SPF) barrier colony of breeding marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) was established at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies. Rodent and other animal models maintained as SPF barrier colonies have demonstrated improved health and lengthened lifespans enhancing the quality and repeatability of aging research. The marmosets were screened for two viruses and several bacterial pathogens prior to establishing the new SPF colony. Twelve founding animals successfully established a breeding colony with increased reproductive success, improved health parameters, and increased median lifespan when compared to a conventionally housed, open colony. The improved health and longevity of marmosets from the SPF barrier colony suggests that such management can be used to produce a unique resource for future studies of aging processes in a nonhuman primate model.

Strategy for Quantitative Analysis of Isomeric Bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate and Phosphatidylglycerol Species by Shotgun Lipidomics after One-Step Methylation.
Wang M, Palavicini JP, Cseresznye A, Han X
Analytical Chemistry. 2017 Aug 15;89(16):8490-8495. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.7b02058. Epub 2017 Jul 26.


Understanding the cellular function and metabolism of bis(monoacylglycero)phosphate (BMP), an important but low-abundance class of phospholipids, has been hindered due to its difficulties to be resolved from its structural isomer (i.e., phosphatidylglycerol, PG, another low-abundance class of phospholipids). A novel strategy for quantitative analysis of BMP and PG species was developed after one-step methylation of lipid extracts in combination with high mass accuracy/resolution mass spectrometry after direct infusion (i.e., shotgun lipidomics). The novel strategy was applied for quantitative analysis of mouse hepatic BMP and PG species and their changes induced by long-term high-fat diet (HFD) feeding. Interestingly, we revealed that HFD-fed mice display a dramatic accumulation of hepatic BMP compared to chow-fed littermates. We believe the development of this novel strategy could greatly facilitate our understanding of the role of BMP in biological systems.

A brief overview of tauopathy: Causes, consequences and therapeutic strategies.
Orr M, Sullivan C, Frost B
Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. 2017 Jul;38(7):637-648. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2017 Apr 25.


There are currently no disease-modifying therapies for the treatment of tauopathies, a group of progressive neurodegenerative disorders that are pathologically defined by the presence of tau protein aggregates in the brain. Current challenges for the treatment of tauopathies include the inability to diagnose early and to confidently discriminate between distinct tauopathies in patients, alongside an incomplete understanding of the cellular mechanisms involved in pathogenic tau-induced neuronal death and dysfunction. In this review, we describe current diagnostic and therapeutic strategies, known drivers of pathogenic tau formation, recent contributions to our current mechanistic understanding of how pathogenic tau induces neuronal death, and potential diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.

Cerebral Microvascular Accumulation of Tau Oligomers in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Tauopathies.
Castillo-Carranza DL, Nilson AN, Van Skike CE, Jahrling JB, Patel K, Garach P, Gerson JE, Sengupta U, Abisambra J, Nelson P, Troncoso J, Ungvari Z, Galvan V, Kayed R
Aging and Disease. 2017 May 2;8(3):257-266. doi: 10.14336/AD.2017.0112. eCollection 2017 May.


The importance of vascular contributions to cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID) associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related neurodegenerative diseases is increasingly recognized, however, the underlying mechanisms remain obscure. There is growing evidence that in addition to Aβ deposition, accumulation of hyperphosphorylated oligomeric tau contributes significantly to AD etiology. Tau oligomers are toxic and it has been suggested that they propagate in a “prion-like” fashion, inducing endogenous tau misfolding in cells. Their role in VCID, however, is not yet understood. The present study was designed to determine the severity of vascular deposition of oligomeric tau in the brain in patients with AD and related tauopathies, including dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Further, we examined a potential link between vascular deposition of fibrillar Aβ and that of tau oligomers in the Tg2576 mouse model. We found that tau oligomers accumulate in cerebral microvasculature of human patients with AD and PSP, in association with vascular endothelial and smooth muscle cells. Cerebrovascular deposition of tau oligomers was also found in DLB patients. We also show that tau oligomers accumulate in cerebral microvasculature of Tg2576 mice, partially in association with cerebrovascular Aβ deposits. Thus, our findings add to the growing evidence for multifaceted microvascular involvement in the pathogenesis of AD and other neurodegenerative diseases. Accumulation of tau oligomers may represent a potential novel mechanism by which functional and structural integrity of the cerebral microvessels is compromised.

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