Posts Tagged ‘pancreatic beta cell’

Will Lab-Grown Insulin-Producing Cells be the Next Insulin Pill?

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, typically in childhood. Starved of insulin’s ability to regulate glucose levels in the blood, spikes in blood sugar can cause serious organ damage and eventually death. Replacing insulin cells lost in patients with Type 1 diabetes, has been a goal in regenerative medicine, but until now researchers had not been able to figure out how to produce cells in a lab dish that work as they do in healthy adults.

Dr. Matthias Hebrok, director of Diabetes Center at UCSF published a study on Feb 1, 2019 in Nature Cell Biology looked into generating insulin-producing cells that look and act a lot like the pancreatic beta cell. Hebrok and colleagues replicated the physical process by which the cells separate from the rest of the pancreas and form the so-called islets of Langerhans in the lab.

When the researchers replicated that process in lab dishes by artificially separating partially differentiated pancreatic stem cells and reforming them into islet-like clusters, the cells’ development unexpectedly leap forward. Not only did the beta cells begin responding to blood sugar more like mature insulin-producing cells, but similarly appeared to develop in ways that had never been realized in a laboratory setting. The scientist then transplanted these lab-grown islets into healthy mice and found that that in a matter of days, they produce more insulin than the animals’ own islets.

In partnership with bioengineers, geneticists, and other colleagues at UCSF, Hebrok’s team is by now working to move regenerative therapies to reality by using CRISPR gene editing to make these cells transplantable into patients without the necessity for immune-suppressing drugs or by screening drugs that could reinstate proper islet function in patients with Type 1 diabetes by protecting and expanding the few remaining beta cells to restart pancreatic insulin production.




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Reprogrammed Human Pancreatic Cells Reprogrammed to Create Insulin

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

A  new study proposes that various cells can be modified to take a place of an insulin producing cell to help control sugar levels.  Researchers from University of Lincoln, UK report coaxing human pancreatic cells that don’t normally make insulin (a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood), to change their identity and begin producing the hormone. When implanted in mice, these reprogrammed cells relieved symptoms of diabetes, raising the opportunity that the method could one day be used as a treatment in people.

It is known that beta cells normally respond by releasing insulin when blood sugar levels rise after eating, which in turn stimulates to start absorbing sugars. In people with diabetes, this system breaks down, leading to high blood sugar levels that can harm the body and cause illness. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys β-cells; in type 2, the β-cells do not produce enough of the hormone, or the body becomes resistant to insulin.

Scientists have previously revealed in mouse studies that if β-cells are destroyed, alternative type of pancreatic cell, called α-cells become more β-like and start making insulin. These α-cells normally yield the hormone glucagon which are originate together with β-cells in clumps of hormone-secreting cells called pancreatic islets or islets of Langerhans. Preceding studies showed that two proteins that control gene expression seemed to have an important role in coaxing α-cells to produce insulin in mice: Pdx1 and MafA.

At the same time as researchers from University of Lincoln, researchers from Pedro Herrera group at University of Geneva, wondered whether producing more of these proteins in human α-cells would have a similar result. They first took islet cells from human pancreases, and separated out the individual cell types which were then introduced DNA that encoded Pdx1 and MafA proteins into the α-cells, before clumping them back together.

After one week in culture, almost 40% of the human α-cells were producing insulin, while control cells that hadn’t been reprogrammed were not. The reprogrammed cells showed an increase in the expression of other genes related to β-cells, which were then implanted into diabetic mice, which had their β-cells destroyed and found that blood-sugar levels went down to normal levels. When the cell grafts were removed, the mice’s blood sugar shot back up.

Results of the experiment show that if α-cells or other kinds of islet cells could be made to start producing insulin in this way in diabetes patients’ quality of life will improve. According to Herrera before drawing conclusions about the efficacy of their approach, they will need to test the hybrid cells with other antibodies present in type-1 diabetes that could potentially attack those cells. But the research demonstrates that there is a lot of plasticity in the hormonal system of the human pancreas.


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Diabetes Mellitus: new insight into genetic role

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator



New Study May Lead to Improved Type 2 Diabetes Treatment


Genetic cause found for loss of beta cells during diabetes development.

Worldwide, 400 million people live with diabetes, with rapid increases projected. Patients with diabetes mostly fall into one of two categories, type 1 diabetics, triggered by autoimmunity at a young age, and type 2 diabetics, caused by metabolic dysfunction of the liver. Despite being labeled a “lifestyle disease”, diabetes has a strong genetic basis. New research under the direction of Adrian Liston (VIB/KU Leuven) has discovered that a common genetic defect in beta cells may underlie both forms of diabetes. This research was published in the international scientific journal Nature Genetics.

Adrian Liston (VIB/University of Leuven): “Our research finds that genetics is critical for the survival of beta cells in the pancreas – the cells that make insulin. Thanks to our genetic make-up, some of us have beta cells that are tough and robust, while others have beta cells that are fragile and can’t handle stress. It is these people who develop diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, while others with tougher beta cells will remain healthy even in if they suffer from autoimmunity or metabolic dysfunction of the liver.”

Different pathways to diabetes development

Diabetes is a hidden killer. One out of every 11 adults is suffering from the disease, yet half of them have not even been diagnosed. Diabetes is caused by the inability of the body to lower blood glucose, a process normally driven by insulin. In patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D), this is caused by the immune system killing off the beta cells that produce insulin. In patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D), a metabolic dysfunction prevents insulin from working on the liver. In both cases, left untreated, the extra glucose in the blood can cause blindness, cardiovascular disease, diabetic nephropathy, diabetic neuropathy and death.

In this study, an international team of researchers investigated how genetic variation controls the development of diabetes. While most previous work has focused on the effect of genetics in altering the immune system (in T1D) and metabolic dysfunction of the liver (in T2D), this research found that genetics also affected the beta cells that produce insulin. Mice with fragile beta cells that were poor at repairing DNA damage would rapidly develop diabetes when those beta cells were challenged by cellular stress. Other mice, with robust beta cells that were good at repairing DNA damage, were able to stay non-diabetic for life, even when those islets were placed under severe cellular stress. The same pathways for beta cell survival and DNA damage repair were also found to be altered in diabetic patient samples, indicating that a genetic predisposition for fragile beta cells may underlie who develops diabetes.

Adrian Liston (VIB/University of Leuven): “While genetics are really the most important factor for developing diabetes, our food environment can also play a deciding role. Even mice with genetically superior beta cells ended up as diabetic when we increased the fat in their diet.”

A new model for testing type 2 diabetes treatments

Current treatments for T2D rely on improving the metabolic response of the liver to insulin. These antidiabetic drugs, in conjunction with lifestyle interventions, can control the early stages of T2D by allowing insulin to function on the liver again. However during the late stages of T2D, the death of beta cells means that there is no longer any insulin being produced in the pancreas. At this stage, antidiabetic drugs and lifestyle interventions have poor efficacy, and medical complications arise.

Dr Lydia Makaroff (International Diabetes Federation, not an author of the current study): “The health cost for diabetes currently exceeds US$600 billion, 12 percent of the global health budget, and will only increase as diabetes becomes more common. Much of this health care burden is caused by late-stage type 2 diabetes, where we do not have effective treatments, so we desperately need new research into novel therapeutic approaches. This discovery dramatically improves our understanding of type 2 diabetes, which will enable the design of better strategies and medications for diabetes in the future”.

Adrian Liston (VIB/University of Leuven): “The big problem in developing drugs for late-stage T2D is that, until now, there has not been an animal model for the beta cell death stage. Previously, animal models were all based on the early stage of metabolic dysfunction in the liver, which has allowed the development of good drugs for treating early-stage T2D. This new mouse model will allow us, for the first time, to test new antidiabetic drugs that focus on preserving beta cells. There are many promising drugs under development at life sciences companies that have just been waiting for a usable animal model. Who knows, there may even be useful compounds hidden away in alternative or traditional medicines that could be found through a good testing program. If a drug is found that stops late-stage diabetes, it would really be a major medical breakthrough!”

New Method Measures Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Blood

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have found a new type of biomarker that can predict the risk of type 2 diabetes, by detecting epigenetic changes in specific genes through a simple blood test. The results are published today in Nature Communications.

“This could motivate a person at risk to change their lifestyle”, said Karl Bacos, researcher in epigenetics at Lund University.

Predicting the onset of diabetes is already possible by measuring the blood glucose level average, HbA1C, over time. However, the predictive potential of this method is modest and new methods are needed.

The discoveries made by the research group at Lund University have now made it possible to measure the presence of so-called DNA methylations in four specific genes, and thereby predict who is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, long before the disease occurs. Methylations are chemical changes that control gene activity, that is, whether they are active or not.

“The hope is that this will be developed into a better way to predict the disease”, said Karl Bacos, first author of the study.

The researchers started by studying insulin-producing beta cells from deceased persons. They found that the DNA methylations in the four genes in question increased, depending on the donor’s age. This in turn affected the activity of the genes.

When these changes were copied in cultured beta cells, they proved to have a positive effect on insulin secretion.

“We could then see the same DNA methylation changes in the blood which was really cool”, said Karl Bacos.

The blood samples from the participants of two separate research projects – one Danish and one Finnish – were then studied and compared with blood samples taken from the same participants ten years later. The Finnish participants, who had exhibited higher levels of DNA methylation in their first sample, had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes ten years later. In the Danish participants, higher DNA methylation in their first sample was associated with higher insulin secretion ten years later. All of the Danish participants were healthy on both occasions, whereas approximately one-third of the Finnish participants had developed type 2 diabetes.

“Increased insulin secretion actually protects against type 2 diabetes. It could be the body’s way of protecting itself when other tissue becomes resistant to insulin, which often happens as we get older”, said professor and research project manager Charlotte Ling.

The studies were based on a relatively small number of participants, and a selection of genes. The researchers therefore now want to continue with finding markers with a stronger predictive potential by implementing so-called epigenetic whole-genome sequencing when analysing a person’s entire genetic make-up and all the DNA methylations that come with it, in a larger population group.

The research group has previously shown that age, diet and exercise affect the so-called epigenetic risk of type 2 diabetes.

“You cannot change your genes and the risks that they entail, but epigenetics means that you can affect the DNA methylations, and thereby gene activity, through lifestyle choices”, said Charlotte Ling.


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Adipocyte Derived Stroma Cells: Their Usage in Regenerative Medicine and Reprogramming into Pancreatic Beta-Like Cells

Curator: Evelina Cohn, Ph.D.

The following presentation can be dowloaded in PowerPoint form by clicking on the link below:

adipocytes (1)


In Summary:

There are different results related to betatrophin and its characteristic to induce insulin and/or expand the pancreas beta cells. All the experiments so far were performed in mice. Some of the authors like Elisabeth Kugelberg from Harvard University agrees that betatrophin can induce insulin and expansion of secreting beta cells in mice (E. Kugelberg , 2014). Levitsky et al., 2014, come to the conclusion that betatrophin stimulate growth of beta cells in mice, while Gusarova et al., 2014, said that Betatrophin doesn’t control cell expansion in mice ( Gusarova et al., 2014) All three results are based on experiments on mice.

To make sure what are the characteristics of betatrophin in human pancreatic beta cells I suggest to try to determine the concentration and effect on those concentrations on immortal beta cells from human, CM cell line (insulinoma-obtained from ascitic fluid of cancer patients ) ( they are not producing any insulin under the glucose stimulation, therefore they may be a good for our model if they respond to betatrophin) TRM-1 (foetal Human SV40 T antigen)-Express small amount of insulin, not responsive to glucose stimulation) and finally Blox5 ( foetal Human SV40 T –antigen) which Exhibit glucose responsive. and Low insulin content. Blox5 may be the second good cell line to experiment, because they are responsive to glucose and they may be responsive to betatrophin as well.

If we found that those cell lines are inducing insulin then we may try primary beta cells. There is an article of 2013 (Ilie and Ilie, 2013) in which there is a possibility of regeneration of beta cells in vivo by neogenesis from adult pancreas. We can use their model to see if betatrophin indeed induce insulin in those cells. ( see the article attached)

On the other hand there are possibilities of growing beta cells directly onto pancreatic duct as it shows below:

pharmacoogicalapproaches to islet regeneration












Therefore, I suggest of producing pancreatic duct by using 3D printing and grow the cells by neogenesis

directly on the pancreatic duct.


Gusarova V, Alexa CA, Na E, Stevis PE, Xin Y, Bonner-Weir S,

Cohen JC, Hobbs HH, Murphy AJ, Yancopoulos GD, Gromada J (2014), ANGPTL8/Betatrophin Does Not Control Pancreatic Beta Cell Expansion. Cell 159: 691-696.

Kugelberg E. (2013) Diabetes: Betatrophin—inducing β-cell expansion to treat diabetes mellitus? Nature Reviews Endocrinology 9: 379

Levitsky LL, Ardestani G, Rhoads DB (2014). Role of growth factors in control of pancreatic beta cell mass: focus on betatrophin. Curr Opin Pediatr. August 26 (4):475-9










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Immunopathogenesis Advances in Diabetes and Lymphomas

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator




 Science team says they’ve taken another step toward a potential cure for diabetes

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 | By John Carroll
Building on years of work on developing new insulin-producing cells that could one day control glucose levels and cure diabetes, a group of investigators led by scientists at MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital say they’ve developed a promising new gel capsule that protected the cells from an immune system assault.

Dr. Jose Oberholzer, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tested a variety of chemically modified alginate hydrogel spheres to see which ones would be best at protecting the islet cells created from human stem cells.

The team concluded that 1.5-millimeter spheres of triazole-thiomorphine dioxide (TMTD) alginate were best at protecting the cells and allowing insulin to seep out without spurring an errant immune system attack or the development of scar tissue–two key threats to making this work in humans.

They maintained healthy glucose levels in the rodents for 174 days, the equivalent to decades for humans.

“While this is a very promising step towards an eventual cure for diabetes, a lot more testing is needed to ensure that the islet cells don’t de-differentiate back toward their stem-cell states or become cancerous,” said Oberholzer.

Millions of diabetics have effectively controlled the chronic disease with existing therapies, but there’s still a huge unmet medical need to consider. While diabetes companies like Novo ($NVO) like to cite the fact that a third of diabetics have the disease under control, a third are on meds but don’t control it well and a third haven’t been diagnosed. An actual cure for the disease, which has been growing by leaps and bounds all over the world, would be revolutionary.

Their study was published in Nature Medicine.

– here’s the release
– get the journal abstract


Long-term glycemic control using polymer-encapsulated human stem cell–derived beta cells in immune-competent mice

Arturo J Vegas, Omid Veiseh, Mads Gürtler,…, Robert Langer & Daniel G Anderson

Nature Medicine (2016)

The transplantation of glucose-responsive, insulin-producing cells offers the potential for restoring glycemic control in individuals with diabetes1. Pancreas transplantation and the infusion of cadaveric islets are currently implemented clinically2, but these approaches are limited by the adverse effects of immunosuppressive therapy over the lifetime of the recipient and the limited supply of donor tissue3. The latter concern may be addressed by recently described glucose-responsive mature beta cells that are derived from human embryonic stem cells (referred to as SC-β cells), which may represent an unlimited source of human cells for pancreas replacement therapy4. Strategies to address the immunosuppression concerns include immunoisolation of insulin-producing cells with porous biomaterials that function as an immune barrier56. However, clinical implementation has been challenging because of host immune responses to the implant materials7. Here we report the first long-term glycemic correction of a diabetic, immunocompetent animal model using human SC-β cells. SC-β cells were encapsulated with alginate derivatives capable of mitigating foreign-body responses in vivo and implanted into the intraperitoneal space of C57BL/6J mice treated with streptozotocin, which is an animal model for chemically induced type 1 diabetes. These implants induced glycemic correction without any immunosuppression until their removal at 174 d after implantation. Human C-peptide concentrations and in vivo glucose responsiveness demonstrated therapeutically relevant glycemic control. Implants retrieved after 174 d contained viable insulin-producing cells.

Subject terms: Regenerative medicine  Type 1 diabetes

Figure 1: SC-β cells encapsulated with TMTD alginate sustain normoglycemia in STZ-treated immune-competent C57BL/6J mice.close

(a) Top, schematic representation of the last three stages of differentiation of human embryonic stem cells to SC-β cells. Stage 4 cells (pancreatic progenitors 2) co-express pancreatic and duodenal homeobox 1 (PDX-1) and NK6 homeobox 1…


Potential Cure for Diabetes Discovered   01/27/2016

Two new scientific papers published on Monday demonstrated tools that could result in potential therapies for patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the immune system limits the production of insulin, typically in adolescents.  See —

Bubble Technique Could Create Type 1 Diabetes Therapy

Two new scientific papers published on Monday demonstrated tools that could result in potential therapies for patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the immune system limits the production of insulin, typically in adolescents.

Previous treatments for this disease have involved injecting beta cells from dead donors into patients to help their pancreas generate healthy-insulin cells, writes STAT. However, this method has resulted in the immune system targeting these new cells as “foreign” so transplant recipients have had to take immune-suppressing medications for the rest of their lives.

The first paper published in the journal Nature Biotechnology explained how scientists analyzed a seaweed extract called alginate to gauge its effectiveness in supporting the flow of sugar and insulin between cells and the body. An estimated 774 variations were tested in mice and monkeys in which results indicated only a handful could reduce the body’s response to foreign invaders, explains STAT.

The other paper in the journal Nature Medicine detailed a process where scientists developed small capsules infused with alginate and embryonic stem cells. A six-month observation period revealed this “protective bubble” technique “began to produce insulin in response to blood glucose levels” after transplantation in mice subjects with a condition similar to type 1 diabetes, reports Gizmodo.

Essentially, this cured the mice of their diabetes, and the beta cells worked as well as the body’s own cells, according to the researchers. Human trials could still be a few years away, but this experiment could yield a safer alternative to insulin injections.


Combinatorial hydrogel library enables identification of materials that mitigate the foreign body response in primates

Arturo J Vegas, Omid Veiseh, Joshua C Doloff, et al.

Nature Biotechnology (2016)

The foreign body response is an immune-mediated reaction that can lead to the failure of implanted medical devices and discomfort for the recipient1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. There is a critical need for biomaterials that overcome this key challenge in the development of medical devices. Here we use a combinatorial approach for covalent chemical modification to generate a large library of variants of one of the most widely used hydrogel biomaterials, alginate. We evaluated the materials in vivo and identified three triazole-containing analogs that substantially reduce foreign body reactions in both rodents and, for at least 6 months, in non-human primates. The distribution of the triazole modification creates a unique hydrogel surface that inhibits recognition by macrophages and fibrous deposition. In addition to the utility of the compounds reported here, our approach may enable the discovery of other materials that mitigate the foreign body response.


Video 1: Intravital imaging of 300 μm SLG20 microcapsules.

Video 2: Intravital imaging of 300 μm Z2-Y12 microcapsules.

Video 3: NHP Laparoscopic procedure for the retrieval of Z2-Y12 spheres.


Clinical Focus on Follicular Lymphoma: CAR T-Cells Active in Relapsed Blood Cancers

MedPage Today

CAR T-Cells Active in Relapsed Blood Cancers

Complete responses in half of patients

by Charles Bankhead

Patients with relapsed and refractory B-cell malignancies have responded to treatment with modified T-cells added to conventional chemotherapy, data from an ongoing Swedish study showed.

Six of the first 11 evaluable patients achieved complete responses with increasing doses of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-modified T-cells that target the CD19 antigen, although two subsequently relapsed.

Five of the six responding patients received preconditioning chemotherapy the day before CAR T-cell infusion, in addition to chemotherapy administered up to 90 days before T-cell infusion to reduce tumor-cell burden. The remaining five patients received only the earlier chemotherapy, according to a presentation at the inaugural International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference in New York City.

“The complete responses in lymphoma patients despite the fact that they received only low doses of preconditioning compared with other published data surprised us,” Angelica Loskog, PhD, of Uppsala University in Sweden, said in a statement. “The strategy of both providing tumor-reductive chemotherapy for weeks prior to CAR T-cell infusion combined with preconditioning just before CAR T-cell infusion seems to offer promise.

CAR T-cells have demonstrated activity in a variety of studies involving patients with B-cell malignancies. Much of the work has focused on patients with leukemia, including trials in the U.S. B-cell lymphomas have proven more difficult to treat with CAR T-cells because the diseases are associated with higher concentration of immunosuppressive cells that can inhibit CAR T-cell activity, said Loskog. Moreover, blood-vessel abnormalities and accumulation of fibrotic tissue can hinder tumor penetration by therapeutic T-cells.

Each laboratory has its own process for modifying T-cells. Loskog and colleagues in Sweden and at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have developed third-generation CAR T-cells that contain signaling domains for CD28 and 4-1BB, which act as co-stimulatory molecules. In preclinical models, third-generation CAR T-cells have demonstrated increased activation and proliferation in response to antigen challenge. Additionally, they have chosen to experiment with tumor burden-reducing chemotherapy, a preconditioning chemotherapy to counter the higher immunosuppressive cell count in lymphoma patients.

Loskog reported details of an ongoing phase I/IIa clinical trial involving patients with relapsed or refractory CD19-positive B-cell malignancies. Altogether, investigators have treated 12 patients with increasing doses (2 x 107 to 2 x 108 cells/m2) of CAR T-cells. One patient (with mixed follicular/Burkitt lymphoma) has yet to be evaluated for response. The remaining 11 included three patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), one with follicular lymphoma transformed to DLBCL, two with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, two with mantle cell lymphoma, and three with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

All of the patients with lymphoma received standard tumor cell-reducing chemotherapy, beginning 3 to 90 days before administration of CAR T-cells. Beginning with the sixth patient in the cohort, patients also received preconditioning chemotherapy (cyclophosphamide/fludarabine) 1 to 2 days before T-cell infusion to reduce the number and activity of immunosuppressive cells.

Cytokine release syndrome is a common effect of CAR T-cell therapy and occurred in several patients treated. In general, the syndrome has been manageable and has not interfered with treatment or response to the modified T-cells.

On the basis of the data produced thus far, the investigators have proceeded with patient evaluation and enrollment. They have already begun cell production for the next patient that will be treated with autologous CAR T-cells.

Although laboratories have their own cell production techniques, the treatment strategy has broad applicability to the treatment of B-cell malignancies, said Loskog.

“The results using different CARs and different techniques for manufacturing them is very similar in the clinic, in terms of initial complete response,” she told MedPage Today. “By using 4-1BB as a co-stimulator in the CAR intracellular region, it seems possible to achieve long-term complete responses in some patients. However, preconditioning of the patients with chemotherapy to reduce the regulatory immune cells seems crucial for effect.”

In an effort to manage the effect of patients’ immunosuppressive cells, the investigators have begun studying each the immune profile before and after treatment. Preliminary results suggest that the population of immunosuppressive cells increases over time, which has the potential to interfere with CAR T-cell responses.

“Especially for lymphoma, it may be crucial to deplete such cells prior to CAR infusion,” said Loskog. “It may even be necessary with supportive treatment for some time after CAR T-cell infusion. A supportive treatment needs to specifically regulate the suppressive cells while sparing the effect of CARs.”

The immunotherapy conference is jointly sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research, the Cancer Research Institute, the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy, and the European Academy of Tumor Immunology.


PET-CT Best for FL Response Assessment

PET-CT associated with better progression-free and overall survival rates in follicular lymphoma.

Kay Jackson

PET-CT (PET) rather than contrast-enhanced CT scanning should be considered the new gold standard for response assessment after first-line rituximab therapy for high-tumor burden follicular lymphoma (FL), a pooled analysis of a central review in three multicenter studies indicated.

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H2S-mediated protein sulfhydration in stress reveals metabolic reprogramming

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator




Quantitative H2S-mediated protein sulfhydration reveals metabolic reprogramming during the Integrated Stress Response

” data-author-inst=”CaseWesternReserveUniversityUnitedStates”>Bo-JhihGuan, 

Ilya Bederman
Department of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, United States
No competing interests declared

” data-author-inst=”CaseWesternReserveUniversityUnitedStates”>IlyaBederman, 

Mithu Majumder
Department of Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, United States
No competing interests declared

” data-author-inst=”CaseWesternReserveUniversityUnitedStates”>MithuMajumder, et al.
eLife 2015;10.7554/eLife.10067

The sulfhydration of cysteine residues in proteins is an important mechanism involved in diverse biological processes. We have developed a proteomics approach to quantitatively profile the changes of sulfhydrated cysteines in biological systems. Bioinformatics analysis revealed that sulfhydrated cysteines are part of a wide range of biological functions. In pancreatic β cells exposed to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, elevated H2S promotes the sulfhydration of enzymes in energy metabolism and stimulates glycolytic flux. We propose that transcriptional and translational reprogramming by the Integrated Stress Response (ISR) in pancreatic β cells is coupled to metabolic alternations triggered by sulfhydration of key enzymes in intermediary metabolism.
Posttranslational modification is a fundamental mechanism in the regulation of structure and function of proteins. The covalent modification of specific amino acid residues influences diverse biological processes and cell physiology across species. Reactive cysteine residues in proteins have high nucleophilicity and low pKa values and serve as a major target for oxidative modifications, which can vary depending on the subcellular environment, including the type and intensity of intracellular or environmental cues. Oxidative environments cause different post-translational cysteine modifications, including disulfide bond formation (-S-S-), sulfenylation (-S-OH), nitrosylation (-S-NO), glutathionylation (-S-SG), and sulfhydration (-S-SH) (also called persulfidation) (Finkel, 2012; Mishanina et al., 2015). In the latter, an oxidized cysteine residue included glutathionylated, 60 sulfenylated and nitrosylated on a protein reacts with the sulfide anion to form a cysteine persulfide. The reversible nature of this modification provides a mechanism to fine tune biological processes in different cellular redox states. Sulfhydration coordinates with other post-translational protein modifications such as phosphorylation and nitrosylation to regulate cellular functions (Altaany et al., 2014; Sen et al., 2012). Despite great progress in bioinformatics and advanced mass spectroscopic techniques (MS), identification of different cysteine-based protein modifications has been slow compared to other post-translational modifications. In the case of sulfhydration, a small number of proteins have been identified, among them the glycolytic enzyme glyceraldehyde phosphate dehydrogenase, GAPDH (Mustafa et al., 2009). Sulfhydrated GAPDH at Cys150 exhibits an increase in its catalytic activity, in contrast to the inhibitory effects of nitrosylation or glutathionylation of the same cysteine residue (Mustafa et al., 2009; Paul and Snyder, 2012). The biological significance of the Cys150 modification by H2S is not well-studied, but H2S could serve as a biological switch for protein function acting via oxidative modification of specific cysteine residues in response to redox homeostasis (Paul and Snyder, 2012). Understanding the physiological significance of protein sulfhydration requires the development of genome-wide innovative experimental approaches. Current methodologies based on the modified biotin switch technique do not allow detection of a broad spectrum of sulfhydrated proteins (Finkel, 2012). Guided by a previously reported strategy (Sen et al., 2012), we developed an experimental approach that allowed us to quantitatively evaluate the sulfhydrated proteome and the physiological consequences of H2S synthesis during chronic ER stress. The new methodology allows a quantitative, close-up view of the integrated cellular response to environmental and intracellular cues, and is pertinent to our understanding of human disease development.
The ER is an organelle involved in synthesis of proteins followed by various modifications. Disruption of this process results in the accumulation of misfolded proteins, causing ER stress (Tabas and Ron, 2011; Walter and Ron, 2011), which is associated with development of many diseases ranging from metabolic dysfunction to neurodegeneration (Hetz, 2012). ER stress induces transcriptional, translational, and metabolic reprogramming, all of which are interconnected through the transcription factor Atf4. Atf4 increases expression of genes promoting adaptation to stress via their protein products. One such gene is the H2S-producing enzyme, γ-cystathionase (CTH), previously shown to be involved in the signaling pathway that negatively regulates the activity of the protein tyrosine phosphatase 1B (PTP1B) via sulfhydration (Krishnan et al., 2011). We therefore hypothesized that low or even modest levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) during ER stress may reprogram cellular metabolism via H2S-mediated protein sulfhydration (Figure 1A).
In summary, sulfhydration of specific cysteines in proteins is a key function of H2S (Kabil and Banerjee, 2010; Paul and Snyder, 2012; Szabo et al., 2013). Thus, the development of tools that can quantitatively measure genome-wide protein sulfhydration in physiological or pathological conditions is of central importance. However, a significant challenge in studies of the biological significance of protein sulfhydration is the lack of an approach to selectively detect sulfhydrated cysteines from other modifications (disulfide bonds, glutathionylated thiols and sulfienic acids) in complex biological samples. In this study, we introduced the BTA approach that allowed the quantitative assessment of changes in the sulfhydration of specific cysteines in the proteome and in individual proteins. BTA is superior to other reported methodologies that aimed to profile cysteine modifications, such as the most commonly used, a modified biotin switch technique (BST). BST was originally designed to study protein nitrosylation and postulated to differentiate free thiols and persulfides (Mustafa et al., 2009). A key advantage of BTA over the existing methodologies, is that the experimental approach has steps to avoid false-positive and negative results, as target proteins for sulfhydration. BST is commonly generating such false targets for cysteine modifications (Forrester et al., 2009; Sen et al., 2012). Using mutiple validations, our data support the specificity and reliability of the BTA assay for analysis of protein sulfhydration both in vitro and in vivo. With this approach, we found that ATF4 is the master regulator of protein sulfhydration in pancreatic β cells during ER stress, by means of its function as a transcription factor. A large number of protein targets have been discovered to undergo sulfhydration in β cells by the BTA approach. Almost 1,000 sulfhydrated cysteine- containing peptides were present in the cells under the chronic ER stress condition of treatment with Tg for 18 h. Combined with the isotopic-labeling strategy, almost 820 peptides on more than 500 proteins were quantified in the 405 cells overexpressing ATF4. These data show the potential of the BTA method for further systematic studies of biological events. To our knowledge, the current dataset encompasses most known sulfhydrated cysteine residues in proteins in any organism. Our bioinformatics analyses revealed sulfhydrated cysteine residues located on a variety of structure-function domains, suggesting the possibility of regulatory mechanism(s) mediated by protein sulfhydration. Structure and sequence analysis revealed consensus motifs that favor sulfhydration; an arginine residue and alpha-helix dipoles are both contributing to stabilize sulfhydrated cysteine thiolates in the local environment.
Pathway analyses showed that H2S-mediated sulfhydration of cysteine residues is that part of the ISR with the highest enrichment in proteins involved in energy metabolism. The metabolic flux revealed that H2S promotes aerobic glycolysis associated with decreased oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria during ER stress in β cells. The TCA cycle revolves by the action of the respiratory chain that requires oxygen to operate. In response to ER stress, mitochondrial function and cellular respiration are down-regulated to limit oxygen demand and to sustain mitochondria. When ATP production from the TCA cycle becomes limited and glycolytic flux increases, there is a risk of accumulation of lactate from pyruvate. One way to escape accumulation of lactate is the mitochondrial conversion of pyruvate to oxalacetic acid (OAA) by pyruvate carboxylase. This latter enzyme was found to be sulfhydrated, consistent with the notion that sulfhydration is linked to metabolic reprogramming towards glycolysis.
The switch of energy production from mitochondria to glycolysis is known as a signature of hypoxic conditions. This metabolic switch has also been observed in many cancer cells characterized as the Warburg effect, which contributes to tumor growth. The Warburg effect provides advantages to cancer cell survival via the rapid ATP production through glycolysis, as well as the increased conversion of glucose into anabolic biomolecules (amino acid, nucleic acid and lipid biosynthesis) and reducing power (NADPH) for regeneration of antioxidants. This metabolic response of tumor cells contributes to tumor growth and metastasis (Vander Heiden et al., 2009). By analogy, the aerobic glycolysis trigged by increased H2S production could give β cells the capability to acquire ATP and nutrients to adapt their cellular metabolism towards maintaining ATP levels in the ER (Vishnu et al., 2014), increasing synthesis of glycerolphospholipids, glycoproteins and protein (Krokowski et al., 2013b), all important components of the ISR. Similar to hypoxic conditions, a phenotype associated with most tumors, the decreased mitochondria function in β cells during ER stress, can also be viewed as an adaptive response by limiting mitochondria ROS and mitochondria-mediated apoptosis. We therefore view that the H2S-mediated increase in glycolysis is an adaptive mechanism for survival of β cells to chronic ER stress, along with the improved ER function and insulin production and folding, both critical factors controlling hyperglycemia in diabetes. Future work should determine which are the key proteins targeted by H2S and thus contributing to metabolic reprogramming of β cells, and if and how insulin synthesis and secretion is affected by sulfhydration of these proteins during ER stress.
Abnormal H2S metabolism has been reported to occur in various diseases, mostly through the deregulation of gene expression encoding for H2S-generating enzymes (Wallace and Wang, 2015). An increase of their levels by stimulants is expected to have similar effects on sulfhydration of proteins like the ATF4- induced CTH under conditions of ER stress. It is the levels of H2S under oxidative conditions that influence cellular functions. In the present study, ER stress in β cells induced elevated Cth levels, whereas CBS was unaffected. The deregulated oxidative modification at cysteine residues by H2S may be a major contributing factor to disease development. In this case, it would provide a rationale for the design of therapeutic agents that would modulate the activity of the involved enzymes.

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