Posts Tagged ‘DHA’

Complex Models of Signaling: Therapeutic Implications

Complex Models of Signaling: Therapeutic Implications

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP


Fishy Business: Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Zinc Transporters and Free Zinc Availability in Human Neuronal Cells

Damitha De Mel and Cenk Suphioglu *

NeuroAllergy Research Laboratory (NARL), School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, Waurn Ponds, Victoria, Australia.

Nutrients 2014, 6, 3245-3258;

Omega-3 (ω-3) fatty acids are one of the two main families of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). The main omega-3 fatty acids in the mammalian body are

  • α-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Central nervous tissues of vertebrates are characterized by a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Moreover, in the human brain,

  • DHA is considered as the main structural omega-3 fatty acid, which comprises about 40% of the PUFAs in total.

DHA deficiency may be the cause of many disorders such as depression, inability to concentrate, excessive mood swings, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dry skin and so on.

On the other hand,

  • zinc is the most abundant trace metal in the human brain.

There are many scientific studies linking zinc, especially

  • excess amounts of free zinc, to cellular death.

Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are characterized by altered zinc metabolism. Both animal model studies and human cell culture studies have shown a possible link between

  • omega-3 fatty acids, zinc transporter levels and
  • free zinc availability at cellular levels.

Many other studies have also suggested a possible

  • omega-3 and zinc effect on neurodegeneration and cellular death.

Therefore, in this review, we will examine

  • the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on zinc transporters and
  • the importance of free zinc for human neuronal cells.

Moreover, we will evaluate the collective understanding of

  • mechanism(s) for the interaction of these elements in neuronal research and their
  • significance for the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegeneration.

Epidemiological studies have linked high intake of fish and shellfish as part of the daily diet to

  • reduction of the incidence and/or severity of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and senile mental decline in

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the two main families of a broader group of fatty acids referred to as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The other main family of PUFAs encompasses the omega-6 fatty acids. In general, PUFAs are essential in many biochemical events, especially in early post-natal development processes such as

  • cellular differentiation,
  • photoreceptor membrane biogenesis and
  • active synaptogenesis.

Despite the significance of these

two families, mammals cannot synthesize PUFA de novo, so they must be ingested from dietary sources. Though belonging to the same family, both

  • omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are metabolically and functionally distinct and have
  • opposing physiological effects. In the human body,
  • high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids are known to increase the formation of prostaglandins and
  • thereby increase inflammatory processes [10].

the reverse process can be seen with increased omega-3 fatty acids in the body.

Many other factors, such as

  1. thromboxane A2 (TXA2),
  2. leukotriene
  3. B4 (LTB4),
  4. IL-1,
  5. IL-6,
  6. tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and
  7. C-reactive protein,

which are implicated in various health conditions, have been shown to be increased with high omega-6 fatty acids but decreased with omega-3 fatty acids in the human body.

Dietary fatty acids have been identified as protective factors in coronary heart disease, and PUFA levels are known to play a critical role in

  • immune responses,
  • gene expression and
  • intercellular communications.

omega-3 fatty acids are known to be vital in

  • the prevention of fatal ventricular arrhythmias, and
  • are also known to reduce thrombus formation propensity by decreasing platelet aggregation, blood viscosity and fibrinogen levels

.Since omega-3 fatty acids are prevalent in the nervous system, it seems logical that a deficiency may result in neuronal problems, and this is indeed what has been identified and reported.

The main omega-3 fatty acids in the mammalian body are

  1. α-linolenic acid (ALA),
  2. docosahexenoic acid (DHA) and
  3. eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

In general, seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, more specifically DHA and EPA (Table 1). Thus far, there are nine separate epidemiological studies that suggest a possible link between

  • increased fish consumption and reduced risk of AD
  • and eight out of ten studies have reported a link between higher blood omega-3 levels

Table 1. Total percentage of omega-3 fatty acids in common foods and supplements.

Food/Supplement EPA DHA ALA Total %






Fresh Bluefin






















Fish oil capsulesCod liver oils

Salmon oil

Sardine oil










Black currant oilCanola oil Mustard seed oils

Soybean oil

Walnut oil

Wheat germ oil











Seeds and other foods

Wheat germ Human milk

Peanut butter


Olive oil

















Table adopted from Maclean C.H. et al. [18].

In another study conducted with individuals of 65 years of age or older (n = 6158), it was found that

  • only high fish consumption, but
  • not dietary omega-3 acid intake,
  • had a protective effect on cognitive decline

In 2005, based on a meta-analysis of the available epidemiology and preclinical studies, clinical trials were conducted to assess the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive protection. Four of the trials completed have shown

a protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids only among those with mild cognitive impairment conditions.

A  trial of subjects with mild memory complaints demonstrated

  • an improvement with 900 mg of DHA.

We review key findings on

  • the effect of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA on zinc transporters and the
  • importance of free zinc to human neuronal cells.

DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in neural membranes, imparting appropriate

  • fluidity and other properties,

and is thus considered as the most important fatty acid in neuronal studies. DHA is well conserved throughout the mammalian species despite their dietary differences. It is mainly concentrated

  • in membrane phospholipids at synapses and
  • in retinal photoreceptors and
  • also in the testis and sperm.

In adult rats’ brain, DHA comprises approximately

  • 17% of the total fatty acid weight, and
  • in the retina it is as high as 33%.

DHA is believed to have played a major role in the evolution of the modern human –

  • in particular the well-developed brain.

Premature babies fed on DHA-rich formula show improvements in vocabulary and motor performance.

Analysis of human cadaver brains have shown that

  • people with AD have less DHA in their frontal lobe
  • and hippocampus compared with unaffected individuals

Furthermore, studies in mice have increased support for the

  • protective role of omega-3 fatty acids.

Mice administrated with a dietary intake of DHA showed

  • an increase in DHA levels in the hippocampus.

Errors in memory were decreased in these mice and they demonstrated

  • reduced peroxide and free radical levels,
  • suggesting a role in antioxidant defense.

Another study conducted with a Tg2576 mouse model of AD demonstrated that dietary

  • DHA supplementation had a protective effect against reduction in
  • drebrin (actin associated protein), elevated oxidation, and to some extent, apoptosis via
  • decreased caspase activity.



Zinc is a trace element, which is indispensable for life, and it is the second most abundant trace element in the body. It is known to be related to

  • growth,
  • development,
  • differentiation,
  • immune response,
  • receptor activity,
  • DNA synthesis,
  • gene expression,
  • neuro-transmission,
  • enzymatic catalysis,
  • hormonal storage and release,
  • tissue repair,
  • memory,
  • the visual process

and many other cellular functions. Moreover, the indispensability of zinc to the body can be discussed in many other aspects,  as

  • a component of over 300 different enzymes
  • an integral component of a metallothioneins
  • a gene regulatory protein.

Approximately 3% of all proteins contain

  • zinc binding motifs .

The broad biological functionality of zinc is thought to be due to its stable chemical and physical properties. Zinc is considered to have three different functions in enzymes;

  1. catalytic,
  2. coactive and

Indeed, it is the only metal found in all six different subclasses

of enzymes. The essential nature of zinc to the human body can be clearly displayed by studying the wide range of pathological effects of zinc deficiency. Anorexia, embryonic and post-natal growth retardation, alopecia, skin lesions, difficulties in wound healing, increased hemorrhage tendency and severe reproductive abnormalities, emotional instability, irritability and depression are just some of the detrimental effects of zinc deficiency.

Proper development and function of the central nervous system (CNS) is highly dependent on zinc levels. In the mammalian organs, zinc is mainly concentrated in the brain at around 150 μm. However, free zinc in the mammalian brain is calculated to be around 10 to 20 nm and the rest exists in either protein-, enzyme- or nucleotide bound form. The brain and zinc relationship is thought to be mediated

  • through glutamate receptors, and
  • it inhibits excitatory and inhibitory receptors.

Vesicular localization of zinc in pre-synaptic terminals is a characteristic feature of brain-localized zinc, and

  • its release is dependent on neural activity.

Retardation of the growth and development of CNS tissues have been linked to low zinc levels. Peripheral neuropathy, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, anencephalus, epilepsy and Pick’s disease have been linked to zinc deficiency. However, the body cannot tolerate excessive amounts of zinc.

The relationship between zinc and neurodegeneration, specifically AD, has been interpreted in several ways. One study has proposed that β-amyloid has a greater propensity to

  • form insoluble amyloid in the presence of
  • high physiological levels of zinc.

Insoluble amyloid is thought to

  • aggregate to form plaques,

which is a main pathological feature of AD. Further studies have shown that

  • chelation of zinc ions can deform and disaggregate plaques.

In AD, the most prominent injuries are found in

  • hippocampal pyramidal neurons, acetylcholine-containing neurons in the basal forebrain, and in
  • somatostatin-containing neurons in the forebrain.

All of these neurons are known to favor

  • rapid and direct entry of zinc in high concentration
  • leaving neurons frequently exposed to high dosages of zinc.

This is thought to promote neuronal cell damage through oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. Excessive levels of zinc are also capable of

  • inhibiting Ca2+ and Na+ voltage gated channels
  • and up-regulating the cellular levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS).

High levels of zinc are found in Alzheimer’s brains indicating a possible zinc related neurodegeneration. A study conducted with mouse neuronal cells has shown that even a 24-h exposure to high levels of zinc (40 μm) is sufficient to degenerate cells.

If the human diet is deficient in zinc, the body

  • efficiently conserves zinc at the tissue level by compensating other cellular mechanisms

to delay the dietary deficiency effects of zinc. These include reduction of cellular growth rate and zinc excretion levels, and

  • redistribution of available zinc to more zinc dependent cells or organs.

A novel method of measuring metallothionein (MT) levels was introduced as a biomarker for the

  • assessment of the zinc status of individuals and populations.

In humans, erythrocyte metallothionein (E-MT) levels may be considered as an indicator of zinc depletion and repletion, as E-MT levels are sensitive to dietary zinc intake. It should be noted here that MT plays an important role in zinc homeostasis by acting

  • as a target for zinc ion binding and thus
  • assisting in the trafficking of zinc ions through the cell,
  • which may be similar to that of zinc transporters

Zinc Transporters

Deficient or excess amounts of zinc in the body can be catastrophic to the integrity of cellular biochemical and biological systems. The gastrointestinal system controls the absorption, excretion and the distribution of zinc, although the hydrophilic and high-charge molecular characteristics of zinc are not favorable for passive diffusion across the cell membranes. Zinc movement is known to occur

  • via intermembrane proteins and zinc transporter (ZnT) proteins

These transporters are mainly categorized under two metal transporter families; Zip (ZRT, IRT like proteins) and CDF/ZnT (Cation Diffusion Facilitator), also known as SLC (Solute Linked Carrier) gene families: Zip (SLC-39) and ZnT (SLC-30). More than 20 zinc transporters have been identified and characterized over the last two decades (14 Zips and 8 ZnTs).

Members of the SLC39 family have been identified as the putative facilitators of zinc influx into the cytosol, either from the extracellular environment or from intracellular compartments (Figure 1).

The identification of this transporter family was a result of gene sequencing of known Zip1 protein transporters in plants, yeast and human cells. In contrast to the SLC39 family, the SLC30 family facilitates the opposite process, namely zinc efflux from the cytosol to the extracellular environment or into luminal compartments such as secretory granules, endosomes and synaptic vesicles; thus decreasing intracellular zinc availability (Figure 1). ZnT3 is the most important in the brain where

  • it is responsible for the transport of zinc into the synaptic vesicles of
  • glutamatergic neurons in the hippocampus and neocortex,


Figure 1. Putative cellular localization of some of the different human zinc transporters (i.e., Zip1- Zip4 and ZnT1- ZnT7). Arrows indicate the direction of zinc passage by the appropriate putative zinc transporters in a generalized human cell. Although there are fourteen Zips and eight ZnTs known so far, only the main zinc transporters are illustrated in this figure for clarity and brevity.

Figure 1: Subcellular localization and direction of transport of the zinc transporter families, ZnT and ZIP. Arrows show the direction of zinc mobilization for the ZnT (green) and ZIP (red) proteins. A net gain in cytosolic zinc is achieved by the transportation of zinc from the extracellular region and organelles such as the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and Golgi apparatus by the ZIP transporters. Cytosolic zinc is mobilized into early secretory compartments such as the ER and Golgi apparatus by the ZnT transporters. Figures were produced using Servier Medical Art,

zinc transporters

zinc transporters



Early zinc signaling (EZS) and late zinc signaling (LZS)

Early zinc signaling (EZS) and late zinc signaling (LZS)


Figure 2: Early zinc signaling (EZS) and late zinc signaling (LZS). EZS involves transcription-independent mechanisms where an extracellular stimulus directly induces an increase in zinc levels within several minutes by releasing zinc from intracellular stores (e.g., endoplasmic reticulum). LSZ is induced several hours after an external stimulus and is dependent on transcriptional changes in zinc transporter expression. Components of this figure were produced using Servier Medical Art, and adapted from Fukada et al. [30].


DHA and Zinc Homeostasis

Many studies have identified possible associations between DHA levels, zinc homeostasis, neuroprotection and neurodegeneration. Dietary DHA deficiency resulted in

  • increased zinc levels in the hippocampus and
  • elevated expression of the putative zinc transporter, ZnT3, in the rat brain.

Altered zinc metabolism in neuronal cells has been linked to neurodegenerative conditions such as AD. A study conducted with transgenic mice has shown a significant link between ZnT3 transporter levels and cerebral amyloid plaque pathology. When the ZnT3 transporter was silenced in transgenic mice expressing cerebral amyloid plaque pathology,

  • a significant reduction in plaque load
  • and the presence of insoluble amyloid were observed.

In addition to the decrease in plaque load, ZnT3 silenced mice also exhibited a significant

  • reduction in free zinc availability in the hippocampus
  • and cerebral cortex.

Collectively, the findings from this study are very interesting and indicate a clear connection between

  • zinc availability and amyloid plaque formation,

thus indicating a possible link to AD.

DHA supplementation has also been reported to limit the following:

  1. amyloid presence,
  2. synaptic marker loss,
  3. hyper-phosphorylation of Tau,
  4. oxidative damage and
  5. cognitive deficits in transgenic mouse model of AD.

In addition, studies by Stoltenberg, Flinn and colleagues report on the modulation of zinc and the effect in transgenic mouse models of AD. Given that all of these are classic pathological features of AD, and considering the limiting nature of DHA in these processes, it can be argued that DHA is a key candidate in preventing or even curing this debilitating disease.

In order to better understand the possible links and pathways of zinc and DHA with neurodegeneration, we designed a study that incorporates all three of these aspects, to study their effects at the cellular level. In this study, we were able to demonstrate a possible link between omega-3 fatty acid (DHA) concentration, zinc availability and zinc transporter expression levels in cultured human neuronal cells.

When treated with DHA over 48 h, ZnT3 levels were markedly reduced in the human neuroblastoma M17 cell line. Moreover, in the same study, we were able to propose a possible

  • neuroprotective mechanism of DHA,

which we believe is exerted through

  • a reduction in cellular zinc levels (through altering zinc transporter expression levels)
  • that in turn inhibits apoptosis.

DHA supplemented M17 cells also showed a marked depletion of zinc uptake (up to 30%), and

  • free zinc levels in the cytosol were significantly low compared to the control

This reduction in free zinc availability was specific to DHA; cells treated with EPA had no significant change in free zinc levels (unpublished data). Moreover, DHA-repleted cells had

  • low levels of active caspase-3 and
  • high Bcl-2 levels compared to the control treatment.

These findings are consistent with previous published data and further strengthen the possible

  • correlation between zinc, DHA and neurodegeneration.

On the other hand, recent studies using ZnT3 knockout (ZnT3KO) mice have shown the importance of

  • ZnT3 in memory and AD pathology.

For example, Sindreu and colleagues have used ZnT3KO mice to establish the important role of

  • ZnT3 in zinc homeostasis that modulates presynaptic MAPK signaling
  • required for hippocampus-dependent memory

Results from these studies indicate a possible zinc-transporter-expression-level-dependent mechanism for DHA neuroprotection.

Collectively from these studies, the following possible mechanism can be proposed (Figure 2).

possible benefits of DHA in neuroprotection through reduction of ZnT3 transporter

possible benefits of DHA in neuroprotection through reduction of ZnT3 transporter


Figure 2. Proposed neuroprotection mechanism of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in reference to synaptic zinc. Schematic diagram showing possible benefits of DHA in neuroprotection through reduction of ZnT3 transporter expression levels in human neuronal cells, which results in a reduction of zinc flux and thus lowering zinc concentrations in neuronal synaptic vesicles, and therefore contributing to a lower incidence of neurodegenerative diseases (ND), such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

More recent data from our research group have also shown a link between the expression levels of histone H3 and H4 proteins in human neuronal cells in relation to DHA and zinc. Following DHA treatment, both H3 and H4 levels were up-regulated. In contrast, zinc treatment resulted in a down-regulation of histone levels. Both zinc and DHA have shown opposing effects on histone post-translational modifications, indicating a possible distinctive epigenetic pattern. Upon treatment with zinc, M17 cells displayed an increase in histone deacetylase (HDACs) and a reduction in histone acetylation. Conversely, with DHA treatment, HDAC levels were significantly reduced and the acetylation of histones was up-regulated. These findings also support a possible interaction between DHA and zinc availability.


It is possible to safely claim that there is more than one potential pathway by which DHA and zinc interact at a cellular level, at least in cultured human neuronal cells. Significance and importance of both DHA and zinc in neuronal survival is attested by the presence of these multiple mechanisms.
Most of these reported studies were conducted using human neuroblastoma cells, or similar cell types, due to the lack of live mature human neuronal cells. Thus, the results may differ from results achieved under actual human physiological conditions due to the structural and functional differences between these cells and mature human neurons. Therefore, an alternative approach that can mimic the human neuronal cells more effectively would be advantageous.

Sphingosine-1-phosphate signaling as a therapeutic target          

E Giannoudaki, DJ Swan, JA Kirby, S Ali

Applied Immunobiology and Transplantation Research Group, Institute of Cellular Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Cell Health and Cytoskeleton 2012; 4: 63–72

S1P is a 379Da member of the lysophospholipid family. It is the direct metabolite of sphingosine through the action of two sphingosine kinases, SphK1 and SphK2. The main metabolic pathway starts with the hydrolysis of sphingomyelin, a membrane sphingolipid, into ceramide by the enzyme sphingomyelinase and the subsequent production of sphingosine by ceramidase (Figure 1). Ceramide can also be produced de novo in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) from serine and palmitoyl coenzyme A through multiple intermediates. S1P production is regulated by various S1P-specific and general lipid phosphatases, as well as S1P lyase, which irreversibly degrades S1P into phosphoethanolamine and hexadecanal. The balance between intracellular S1P and its metabolite ceramide can determine cellular fate. Ceramide promotes apoptosis, while S1P suppresses cell death and promotes cell survival. This creates an S1P ceramide “rheostat” inside the cells. S1P lyase expression in tissue is higher than it is in erythrocytes and platelets, the main “suppliers” of S1P in blood. This causes a tissue–blood gradient of S1P, which is important in many S1P-mediated responses, like the lymphocyte egress from lymphoid organs.

S1P signaling overview

S1P is produced inside cells; however, it can also be found extracellularly, in a variety of different tissues. It is abundant in the blood, at concentrations of 0.4–1.5 μM, where it is mainly secreted by erythrocytes and platelets. Blood S1P can be found separately, but mainly it exists in complexes with high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (∼60%).  Many of the cardioprotective effects of HDL are hypothesized to involve S1P. Before 1996, S1P was thought to act mainly intracellularly as a second messenger. However, the identification of several GPCRs that bind S1P led to the initiation of many studies on

  • extracellular S1P signaling through those receptors.

There are five receptors that have been identified currently. These can be coupled with different G-proteins. Assuming that each receptor coupling with a G protein has a slightly different function, one can recognize the complexity of S1P receptor signaling.

S1P as a second messenger

S1P is involved in many cellular processes through its GPCR signaling; studies demonstrate that S1P also acts at an intracellular level. Intracellular S1P plays a role in maintaining the balance of cell survival signal toward apoptotic signals, creating a

  • cell “rheostat” between S1P and its precursor ceramide.

Important evidence that S1P can act intracellularly as a second messenger came from yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and plant (Arabidopsis thaliana) cells. Yeast cells do not express any S1P receptors, although they can be affected by S1P during heat-shock responses. Similarly, Arabidopsis has only one GPCR-like protein, termed “GCR1,” which does not bind S1P, although S1P regulates stomata closure during drought.



In mammals, the sphingosine kinases have been found to localize in different cell compartments, being responsible for the accumulation of S1P in those compartments to give intracellular signals. In mitochondria, for instance,

  • S1P was recently found to interact with prohibitin 2,

a conserved protein that maintains mitochondria assembly and function. According to the same study,

SphK2 is the major producer of S1P in mitochondria and the knockout of its gene can cause

  • disruption of mitochondrial respiration and cytochrome c oxidase function.

SphK2 is also present in the nucleus of many cells and has been implicated to cause cell cycle arrest, and it causes S1P accumulation in the nucleus. It seems that nuclear S1P is affiliated with the histone deacetylases HDAC1 and HDAC2,

  • inhibiting their activity, thus having an indirect effect in epigenetic regulation of gene expression.

In the ER, SphK2 has been identified to translocate during stress, and promote apoptosis. It seems that S1P has specific targets in the ER that cause apoptosis, probably through calcium mobilization signals.

Sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) is a small bioactive lipid molecule that is involved in several processes both intracellularly and extracellularly. It acts intracellularly

  • to promote the survival and growth of the cell,

through its interaction with molecules in different compartments of the cell.

It can also exist at high concentrations extracellularly, in the blood plasma and lymph. This causes an S1P gradient important for cell migration. S1P signals through five G protein-coupled receptors, S1PR1–S1PR5, whose expression varies in different types of cells and tissue. S1P signaling can be involved in physiological and pathophysiological conditions of the cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems and diseases such as ischemia/reperfusion injury, autoimmunity, and cancer. In this review, we discuss how it can be used to discover novel therapeutic targets.

The involvement of S1P signaling in disease

In a mouse model of myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury (IRI), S1P and its carrier, HDL, can help protect myocardial tissue and decrease the infarct size. It seems they reduce cardiomyocyte apoptosis and neutrophil recruitment to the ischemic tissue and may decrease leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium. This effect appears to be S1PR3 mediated, since in S1PR3 knockout mice it is alleviated.

Ischemia activates SphK1, which is then translocated to the plasma membrane. This leads to an increase of intracellular S1P, helping to promote cardiomyocyte survival against apoptosis, induced by ceramide. SphK1 knockout mice cannot be preconditioned against IRI, whereas SphK1 gene induction in the heart protects it from IRI. Interestingly, a recent study shows SphK2 may also play a role, since its knockout reduces the cardioprotective effects of preconditioning. Further, administration of S1P or sphingosine during reperfusion results in better recovery and attenuation of damage to cardiomyocytes. As with preconditioning, SphK1 deficiency also affects post-conditioning of mouse hearts after ischemia reperfusion (IR).

S1P does not only protect the heart from IRI. During intestinal IR, multiple organs can be damaged, including the lungs. S1P treatment of mice during intestinal IR seems to have a protective effect on lung injury, probably due to suppression of iNOS-induced nitric oxide generation. In renal IRI, SphK1 seems to be important, since its deficiency increased the damage in kidney tissue, whereas the lentiviral overexpression of the SphK1 gene protected from injury. Another study suggests that, after IRI, apoptotic renal cells release S1P, which recruits macrophages through S1PR3 activation and might contribute to kidney regeneration and restoration of renal epithelium. However, SphK2 is negatively implicated in hepatic IRI, its inhibition helping protect hepatocytes and restoring mitochondrial function.

Further studies are implicating S1P signaling or sphingosine kinases in several kinds of cancer as well as autoimmune diseases.

Figure 2 FTY720-P causes retention of T cells in the lymph nodes.

Notes: C57BL/6 mice were injected with BALB/c splenocytes in the footpad to create an allogenic response then treated with FTY720-P or vehicle every day on days 2 to 5. On day 6, the popliteal lymph nodes were removed. Popliteal node-derived cells were mixed with BALB/c splenocytes in interferon gamma (IFN-γ) cultured enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot reactions. Bars represent the mean number of IFN-γ spot-forming cells per 1000 popliteal node-derived cells, from six mice treated with vehicle and seven with FTY720-P. **P , 0.01.  (not shown)

Fingolimod (INN, trade name Gilenya, Novartis) is an immunomodulating drug, approved for treating multiple sclerosis. It has reduced the rate of relapses in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis by over half. Fingolimod is a sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor modulator, which sequesters lymphocytes in lymph nodes, preventing them from contributing to an autoimmune reaction.



The S1P antagonist FTY720 has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to be used as a drug against multiple sclerosis (MS). FTY720 is in fact a prodrug, since it is phosphorylated in vivo by SphK2 into FTY720-P, an S1P structural analog, which can activate S1PR1, 3, 4, and 5. FTY720-P binding to S1PR1 causes internalization of the receptor, as does S1P – but instead of recycling it back to the cell surface, it promotes its ubiquitination and degradation at the proteasome. This has a direct effect on lymphocyte trafficking through the lymph nodes, since it relies on S1PR1 signaling and S1P gradient (Figure 2). In MS, it stops migrating lymphocytes into the brain, but it may also have direct effects on the CNS through neuroprotection. FTY720 can pass the blood–brain barrier and it could be phosphorylated by local sphingosine kinases to act through S1PR1 and S1PR3 receptors that are mainly expressed in the CNS. In MS lesions, astrocytes upregulate those two receptors and it has been shown that FTY720-P treatment in vitro inhibits astrocyte production of inflammatory cytokines. A recent study confirms the importance of S1PR3 signaling on activated astrocytes, as well as SphK1, that are upregulated and promote the secretion of the potentially neuroprotective cytokine CXCL-1.

There are several studies implicating the intracellular S1P ceramide rheostat to cancer cell survival or apoptosis and resistance to chemotherapy or irradiation in vitro. Studies with SphK1 inhibition in pancreatic, prostate cancers, and leukemia, show increased ceramide/S1P ratio and induction of apoptosis. However, S1P receptor signaling plays conflicting roles in cancer cell migration and metastasis.

Modulation of S1P signaling: therapeutic potential

S1P signaling can be involved in many pathophysiological conditions. This means that we could look for therapeutic targets in all the molecules taking part in S1P signaling and production, most importantly the S1P receptors and the sphingosine kinases. S1P agonists and antagonists could also be used to modulate S1P signaling during pathological conditions.

S1P can have direct effects on the cardiovascular system. During IRI, intracellular S1P can protect the cardiomyocytes and promote their survival. Pre- or post-conditioning of the heart with S1P could be used as a treatment, but upregulation of sphingosine kinases could also increase intracellular S1P bioavailability. S1P could also have effects on endothelial cells and neutrophil trafficking. Vascular endothelial cells mainly express S1PR1 and S1PR3; only a few types express S1PR2. S1PR1 and S1PR3 activation on these cells has been shown to enhance their chemotactic migration, probably through direct phosphorylation of S1PR1 by Akt, in a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and Rac1-dependent signaling pathway. Moreover, it stimulates endothelial cell proliferation through an ERK pathway. S1PR2 activation, however, inhibits endothelial cell migration, morphogenesis, and angiogenesis, most likely through Rho-dependent inhibition of Rac signaling pathway, as Inoki et al showed in mouse cells with the use of S1PR1 and S1PR3 specific antagonists.

Regarding permeability of the vascular endothelium and endothelial barrier integrity, S1P receptors can have different effects. S1PR1 activation enhances endothelial barrier integrity by stimulation of cellular adhesion and upregulation of adhesion molecules. However, S1PR2 and S1PR3 have been shown to have barrier-disrupting effects in vitro, and vascular permeability increasing effects in vivo. All the effects S1P can have on vascular endothelium and smooth muscle cells suggest that activation of S1PR2, not S1PR1 and S1PR3, signaling, perhaps with the use of S1PR2 specific agonists, could be used therapeutically to inhibit angiogenesis and disrupt vasculature, suppressing tumor growth and progression.

An important aspect of S1P signaling that is being already therapeutically targeted, but could be further investigated, is immune cell trafficking. Attempts have already been made to regulate lymphocyte cell migration with the use of the drug FTY720, whose phosphorylated form can inhibit the cells S1PR1-dependent egress from the lymph nodes, causing lymphopenia. FTY720 is used as an immunosuppressant for MS but is also being investigated for other autoimmune conditions and for transplantation. Unfortunately, Phase II and III clinical trials for the prevention of kidney graft rejection have not shown an advantage over standard therapies. Moreover, FTY720 can have some adverse cardiac effects, such as bradycardia. However, there are other S1PR1 antagonists that could be considered instead, including KRP-203, AUY954, and SEW2871. KRP-203 in particular has been shown to prolong rat skin and heart allograft survival and attenuate chronic rejection without causing bradycardia, especially when combined with other immunomodulators.

There are studies that argue S1P pretreatment has a negative effect on neutrophil chemotaxis toward the chemokine CXCL-8 (interleukin-8) or the potent chemoattractant formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine. S1P pretreatment might also inhibit trans-endothelial migration of neutrophils, without affecting their adhesion to the endothelium. S1P effects on neutrophil migration toward CXCL-8 might be the result of S1PRs cross-linking with the CXCL-8 receptors in neutrophils, CXCR-1 and CXCR-2. Indeed, there is evidence suggesting S1PR4 and S1PR3 form heterodimers with CXCR-1 in neutrophils. Another indication that S1P plays a role in neutrophil trafficking is a recent paper on S1P lyase deficiency, a deficiency that impairs neutrophil migration from blood to tissue in knockout mice.

S1P lyase and S1PRs in neutrophils may be new therapeutic targets against IRI and inflammatory conditions in general. Consistent with these results, another study has shown that inhibition of S1P lyase can have a protective effect on the heart after IRI and this effect is alleviated when pretreated with an S1PR1 and S1PR3 antagonist. Inhibition was achieved with a US Food and Drug Administration-approved food additive, 2-acetyl-4-tetrahydroxybutylimidazole, providing a possible new drug perspective. Another S1P lyase inhibitor, LX2931, a synthetic analog of 2-acetyl-4-tetrahydroxybutylimidazole, has been shown to cause peripheral lymphopenia when administered in mice, providing a potential treatment for autoimmune diseases and prevention of graft rejection in transplantation. This molecule is currently under Phase II clinical trials in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

S1P signaling research has the potential to discover novel therapeutic targets. S1P signaling is involved in many physiological and pathological processes. However, the complexity of S1P signaling makes it necessary to consider every possible pathway, either through its GPCRs, or intracellularly, with S1P as a second messenger. Where the activation of one S1P receptor may lead to the desired outcome, the simultaneous activation of another S1P receptor may lead to the opposite outcome. Thus, if we are to target a specific signaling pathway, we might need specific agonists for S1P receptors to activate one S1P receptor pathway, while, at the same time, we might need to inhibit another through S1P receptor antagonists.

Nrf2:INrf2(Keap1) Signaling in Oxidative Stress

James W. Kaspar, Suresh K. Niture, and Anil K. Jaiswal*

Department of Pharmacology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD

Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Nov 1; 47(9): 1304–1309.

Nrf2:INrf2(Keap1) are cellular sensors of chemical and radiation induced oxidative and electrophilic stress. Nrf2 is a nuclear transcription factor that

  • controls the expression and coordinated induction of a battery of defensive genes encoding detoxifying enzymes and antioxidant proteins.

This is a mechanism of critical importance for cellular protection and cell survival. Nrf2 is retained in the cytoplasm by an inhibitor INrf2. INrf2 functions as an adapter for

  • Cul3/Rbx1 mediated degradation of Nrf2.
  • In response to oxidative/electrophilic stress,
  • Nrf2 is switched on and then off by distinct

early and delayed mechanisms.

Oxidative/electrophilic modification of INrf2cysteine151 and/or PKC phosphorylation of Nrf2serine40 results in the escape or release of Nrf2 from INrf2. Nrf2 is stabilized and translocates to the nucleus, forms heterodimers with unknown proteins, and binds antioxidant response element (ARE) that leads to coordinated activation of gene expression. It takes less than fifteen minutes from the time of exposure

  • to switch on nuclear import of Nrf2.

This is followed by activation of a delayed mechanism that controls

  • switching off of Nrf2 activation of gene expression.

GSK3β phosphorylates Fyn at unknown threonine residue(s) leading to

  • nuclear localization of Fyn.

Fyn phosphorylates Nrf2tyrosine568 resulting in

  • nuclear export of Nrf2,
  • binding with INrf2 and
  • degradation of Nrf2.

The switching on and off of Nrf2 protects cells against free radical damage, prevents apoptosis and promotes cell survival.

NPRA-mediated suppression of AngII-induced ROS production contributes to the antiproliferative effects of B-type natriuretic peptide in VSMC

Pan Gao, De-Hui Qian, Wei Li,  Lan Huang
Mol Cell Biochem (2009) 324:165–172

Excessive proliferation of vascular smooth cells (VSMCs) plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of diverse vascular disorders, and inhibition of VSMCs proliferation has been proved to be beneficial to these diseases.

In this study, we investigated the antiproliferative effect of

  • B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), a natriuretic peptide with potent antioxidant capacity,

on rat aortic VSMCs, and the possible mechanisms involved. The results indicate that

  • BNP potently inhibited Angiotensin II (AngII)-induced VSMCs proliferation,

as evaluated by [3H]-thymidine incorporation assay. Consistently, BNP significantly decreased

  • AngII-induced intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS)
  • and NAD(P)H oxidase activity.

8-Br-cGMP, a cGMP analog,

  • mimicked these effects.

To confirm its mechanism, siRNA of natriuretic peptide receptor-A(NRPA) strategy technology was used

  • to block cGMP production in VSMCs, and
  • siNPRA attenuated the inhibitory effects of BNP in VSMCs.

Taken together, these results indicate that

  • BNP was capable of inhibiting VSMCs proliferation by
  • NPRA/cGMP pathway,

which might be associated with

  • the suppression of ROS production.

These results might be related, at least partly, to the anti-oxidant property of BNP.

Cellular prion protein is required for neuritogenesis: fine-tuning of multiple signaling pathways involved in focal adhesions and actin cytoskeleton dynamics

A Alleaume-Butaux, C Dakowski, M Pietri, S Mouillet-Richard, Jean-Marie Launay, O Kellermann, B Schneider

1INSERM, UMR-S 747, 2Paris Descartes University, Sorbonne Paris, 3Public Hospital of Paris, Department of Biochemistry, Paris, France; 4Pharma Research Department, Hoffmann La Roche Ltd, Basel, Switzerland

Cell Health and Cytoskeleton 2013; 5: 1–12

Neuritogenesis is a complex morphological phenomena accompanying neuronal differentiation. Neuritogenesis relies on the initial breakage of the rather spherical symmetry of neuroblasts and the formation of buds emerging from the postmitotic neuronal soma. Buds then evolve into neurites, which later convert into an axon or dendrites. At the distal tip of neurites, the growth cone integrates extracellular signals and guides the neurite to its target. The acquisition of neuronal polarity depends on deep modifications of the neuroblast cytoskeleton characterized by the remodeling and activation of focal adhesions (FAs) and localized destabilization of the actin network in the neuronal sphere.Actin instability in unpolarized neurons allows neurite sprouting, ie, the protrusion of microtubules, and subsequent neurite outgrowth. Once the neurite is formed, actin microfilaments recover their stability and exert a sheathed action on neurites, a dynamic process necessary for the maintenance and integrity of neurites.

A combination of extrinsic and intrinsic cues pilots the architectural and functional changes in FAs and the actin network along neuritogenesis. This process includes neurotrophic factors (nerve growth factor, brain derived neurotrophic factor, neurotrophin, ciliary neurotrophic factor, glial derived neurotrophic factor) and their receptors, protein components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) (laminin, vitronectin, fibronectin), plasma membrane integrins and neural cell adhesion molecules (NCAM), and intracellular molecular protagonists such as small G proteins (RhoA, Rac, Cdc42) and their downstream targets.

Neuritogenesis is a dynamic phenomenon associated with neuronal differentiation that allows a rather spherical neuronal stem cell to develop dendrites and axon, a prerequisite for the integration and transmission of signals. The acquisition of neuronal polarity occurs in three steps:

(1) neurite sprouting, which consists of the formation of buds emerging from the postmitotic neuronal soma;

(2) neurite outgrowth, which represents the conversion of buds into neurites, their elongation and evolution into axon or dendrites; and

(3) the stability and plasticity of neuronal polarity.

In neuronal stem cells, remodeling and activation of focal adhesions (FAs) associated with deep modifications of the actin cytoskeleton is a prerequisite for neurite sprouting and subsequent neurite outgrowth. A multiple set of growth factors and interactors located in the extracellular matrix and the plasma membrane orchestrate neuritogenesis

  • by acting on intracellular signaling effectors,
  • notably small G proteins such as RhoA, Rac, and Cdc42,
  • which are involved in actin turnover and the dynamics of FAs.

The cellular prion protein (PrPC), a glycosylphosphatidylinositol

  • (GPI)-anchored membrane protein

mainly known for its role in a group of fatal

  • neurodegenerative diseases,

has emerged as a central player in neuritogenesis.

Here, we review the contribution of PrPC to neuronal polarization and detail the current knowledge on the

  • signaling pathways fine-tuned by PrPC
  • to promote neurite sprouting, outgrowth, and maintenance.

We emphasize that PrPC-dependent neurite sprouting is a process in which PrPC

  • governs the dynamics of FAs and the actin cytoskeleton
  • via β1 integrin signaling.

The presence of PrPC is necessary to render neuronal stem cells

  • competent to respond to neuronal inducers and
  • to develop neurites.

In differentiating neurons, PrPC exerts

  • a facilitator role towards neurite elongation.

This function relies on the interaction of PrPC with a set of diverse partners such as

  1. elements of the extracellular matrix,
  2. plasma membrane receptors,
  3. adhesion molecules, and
  4. soluble factors that control actin cytoskeleton turnover through Rho-GTPase signaling.

Once neurons have reached their terminal stage of differentiation and acquired their polarized morphology, PrPC also

  • takes part in the maintenance of neurites.

By acting on tissue nonspecific alkaline phosphatase, or

  • matrix metalloproteinase type 9,

PrPC stabilizes interactions between

  • neurites and the extracellular matrix.

Keywords: prion, neuronal differentiation


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