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Posts Tagged ‘toxicity’


Decline in Sperm Count – Epigenetics, Well-being and the Significance for Population Evolution and Demography

 

Dr. Marc Feldman, Expert Opinion on the significance of Sperm Count Decline on the Future of Population Evolution and Demography

Dr. Sudipta Saha, Effects of Sperm Quality and Quantity on Human Reproduction

Dr. Aviva Lev-Ari, Psycho-Social Effects of Poverty, Unemployment and Epigenetics on Male Well-being, Physiological Conditions affecting Sperm Quality and Quantity

 

UPDATED on 2/3/2018

Nobody Really Knows What Is Causing the Overdose Epidemic, But Here Are A Few Theories

https://www.buzzfeed.com/danvergano/whats-causing-the-opioid-crisis?utm_term=.kbJPMgaQo4&utm_source=BrandeisNOW%2BWeekly&utm_campaign=58ada49a84-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_01_29&utm_medium=email#.uugW6mx1dG

 

Recent studies concluded via rigorous and comprehensive analysis found that Sperm Count (SC) declined 52.4% between 1973 and 2011 among unselected men from western countries, with no evidence of a ‘leveling off’ in recent years. Declining mean SC implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility. The high proportion of men from western countries with concentration below 40 million/ml is particularly concerning given the evidence that SC below this threshold is associated with a decreased monthly probability of conception.

1.Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis 

Hagai Levine, Niels Jørgensen, Anderson Martino‐Andrade, Jaime Mendiola, Dan Weksler-Derri, Irina Mindlis, Rachel Pinotti, Shanna H SwanHuman Reproduction Update, July 25, 2017, doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx022.

Link: https://academic.oup.com/humupd/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/humupd/dmx022.

2. Sperm Counts Are Declining Among Western Men – Interview with Dr. Hagai Levine

https://news.afhu.org/news/sperm-counts-are-declining-among-western-men?utm_source=Master+List&utm_campaign=dca529d919-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_343e19a421-dca529d919-92801633

3. Trends in Sperm Count – Biological Reproduction Observations

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

4. Long, mysterious strips of RNA contribute to low sperm count – Long non-coding RNAs can be added to the group of possible non-structural effects, possibly epigenetic, that might regulate sperm counts.

http://casemed.case.edu/cwrumed360/news-releases/release.cfm?news_id=689

https://scienmag.com/long-mysterious-strips-of-rna-contribute-to-low-sperm-count/

Dynamic expression of long non-coding RNAs reveals their potential roles in spermatogenesis and fertility

Published: 29 July 2017
Thus, we postulated that some lncRNAs may also impact mammalian spermatogenesis and fertility. In this study, we identified a dynamic expression pattern of lncRNAs during murine spermatogenesis. Importantly, we identified a subset of lncRNAs and very few mRNAs that appear to escape meiotic sex chromosome inactivation (MSCI), an epigenetic process that leads to the silencing of the X- and Y-chromosomes at the pachytene stage of meiosis. Further, some of these lncRNAs and mRNAs show strong testis expression pattern suggesting that they may play key roles in spermatogenesis. Lastly, we generated a mouse knock out of one X-linked lncRNA, Tslrn1 (testis-specific long non-coding RNA 1), and found that males carrying a Tslrn1 deletion displayed normal fertility but a significant reduction in spermatozoa. Our findings demonstrate that dysregulation of specific mammalian lncRNAs is a novel mechanism of low sperm count or infertility, thus potentially providing new biomarkers and therapeutic strategies.

This article presents two perspectives on the potential effects of Sperm Count decline.

One Perspective identifies Epigenetics and male well-being conditions

  1. as a potential explanation to the Sperm Count decline, and
  2. as evidence for decline in White male longevity in certain geographies in the US since the mid 80s.

The other Perspective, evaluates if Sperm Count Decline would have or would not have a significant long term effects on Population Evolution and Demography.

The Voice of Prof. Marc Feldman, Stanford University – Long term significance of Sperm Count Decline on Population Evolution and Demography

Poor sperm count appears to be associated with such demographic statistics as life expectancy (1), infertility (2), and morbidity (3,4). The meta-analysis by Levine et al. (5) focuses on the change in sperm count of men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, and shows a more than 50% decline between 1973 and 2011. Although there is no analysis of potential environmental or lifestyle factors that could contribute to the estimated decline in sperm count, Levine et al. speculate that this decline could be a signal for other negative changes in men’s health.

Because this study focuses mainly on Western men, this remarkable decline in sperm count is difficult to associate with any change in actual fertility, that is, number of children born per woman. The total fertility rate in Europe, especially Italy, Spain, and Germany, has slowly declined, but age at first marriage has increased at the same time, and this increase may be more due to economic factors than physiological changes.

Included in Levine et al.’s analysis was a set of data from “Other” countries from South America, Asia, and Africa. Sperm count in men from these countries did not show significant trends, which is interesting because there have been strong fertility declines in Asia and Africa over the same period, with corresponding increases in life expectancy (once HIV is accounted for).

What can we say about the evolutionary consequences for humans of this decrease? The answer depends on the minimal number of sperm/ml/year that would be required to maintain fertility (per woman) at replacement level, say 2.1 children, over a woman’s lifetime. Given the smaller number of ova produced per woman, a change in the ovulation statistics of women would be likely to play a larger role in the total fertility rate than the number of sperm/ejaculate/man. In other words, sperm count alone, absent other effects on mortality during male reproductive years, is unlikely to tell us much about human evolution.

Further, the major declines in fertility over the 38-year period covered by Levine et al. occurred in China, India, and Japan. Chinese fertility has declined to less than 1.5 children per woman, and in Japan it has also been well below 1.5 for some time. These declines have been due to national policies and economic changes, and are therefore unlikely to signal genetic changes that would have evolutionary ramifications. It is more likely that cultural changes will continue to be the main drivers of fertility change.

The fastest growing human populations are in the Muslim world, where fertility control is not nearly as widely practiced as in the West or Asia. If this pattern were to continue for a few more generations, the cultural evolutionary impact would swamp any effects of potentially declining sperm count.

On the other hand, if the decline in sperm count were to be discovered to be associated with genetic and/or epigenetic phenotypic effects on fetuses, newborns, or pre-reproductive humans, for example, due to stress or obesity, then there would be cause to worry about long-term evolutionary problems. As Levine et al. remark, “decline in sperm count might be considered as a ‘canary in the coal mine’ for male health across the lifespan”. But to date, there is little evidence that the evolutionary trajectory of humans constitutes such a “coal mine”.

References

  1. Jensen TK, Jacobsen R, Christensen K, Nielsen NC, Bostofte E. 2009. Good semen quality and life expectancy: a cohort study of 43,277 men. Am J Epidemiol 170: 559-565.
  2. Eisenberg ML, Li S, Behr B, Cullen MR, Galusha D, Lamb DJ, Lipshultz LI. 2014. Semen quality, infertility and mortality in the USA. Hum Reprod 29: 1567-1574.
  3. Eisenberg ML, Li S, Cullen MR, Baker LC. 2016. Increased risk of incident chronic medical conditions in infertile men: analysis of United States claims data. Fertil Steril 105: 629-636.
  4. Latif T, Kold Jensen T, Mehlsen J, Holmboe SA, Brinth L, Pors K, Skouby SO, Jorgensen N, Lindahl-Jacobsen R. Semen quality is a predictor of subsequent morbidity. A Danish cohort study of 4,712 men with long-term follow-up. Am J Epidemiol. Doi: 10.1093/aje/kwx067. (Epub ahead of print]
  5. Levine H, Jorgensen N, Martino-Andrade A, Mendiola J, Weksler-Derri D, Mindlis I, Pinotti R, Swan SH. 2017. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Hum Reprod Update pp. 1-14. Doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmx022.

SOURCE

From: Marcus W Feldman <mfeldman@stanford.edu>

Date: Monday, July 31, 2017 at 8:10 PM

To: Aviva Lev-Ari <aviva.lev-ari@comcast.net>

Subject: Fwd: text of sperm count essay

Psycho-Social Effects of Poverty, Unemployment and Epigenetics on Male Well-being, Physiological Conditions as POTENTIAL effects on Sperm Quality and Quantity and Evidence of its effects on Male Longevity

The Voice of Carol GrahamSergio Pinto, and John Juneau II , Monday, July 24, 2017, Report from the Brookings Institute

  1. The IMPACT of Well-being, Stress induced by Worry, Pain, Perception of Hope related to Employment and Lack of employment on deterioration of Physiological Conditions as evidence by Decrease Longevity

  2. Epigenetics and Environmental Factors

The geography of desperation in America

Carol GrahamSergio Pinto, and John Juneau II Monday, July 24, 2017, Report from the Brookings Institute

In recent work based on our well-being metrics in the Gallup polls and on the mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we find a robust association between lack of hope (and high levels of worry) among poor whites and the premature mortality rates, both at the individual and metropolitan statistical area (MSA) levels. Yet we also find important differences across places. Places come with different economic structures and identities, community traits, physical environments and much more. In the maps below, we provide a visual picture of the differences in in hope for the future, worry, and pain across race-income cohorts across U.S. states. We attempted to isolate the specific role of place, controlling for economic, socio-demographic, and other variables.

One surprise is the low level of optimism and high level of worry in the minority dense and generally “blue” state of California, and high levels of pain and worry in the equally minority dense and “blue” states of New York and Massachusetts. High levels of income inequality in these states may explain these patterns, as may the nature of jobs that poor minorities hold.

We cannot answer many questions at this point. What is it about the state of Washington, for example, that is so bad for minorities across the board? Why is Florida so much better for poor whites than it is for poor minorities? Why is Nevada “good” for poor white optimism but terrible for worry for the same group? One potential issue—which will enter into our future analysis—is racial segregation across places. We hope that the differences that we have found will provoke future exploration. Readers of this piece may have some contributions of their own as they click through the various maps, and we welcome their input. Better understanding the role of place in the “crisis” of despair facing our country is essential to finding viable solutions, as economic explanations, while important, alone are not enough.

https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-geography-of-desperation-in-america/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=global

 

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Trends in Sperm Count

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

There has been a genuine decline in semen quality over the past 50 years. There is lot of controversy about this as there are limitations in studies that have attempted to address it. Sperm count is of considerable public health importance for several reasons. First, sperm count is closely linked to male fecundity and is a crucial component of semen analysis, the first step to identify male factor infertility.

Reduced sperm count is associated with cryptorchidism, hypospadias and testicular cancer. It may be associated with multiple environmental influences, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, pesticides, heat and lifestyle factors, including diet, stress, smoking and BMI. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impacts of the modern environment on male health throughout the life span.

This study provided a systematic review and meta-regression analysis of recent trends in sperm counts as measured by sperm concentration (SC) and total sperm count (TSC), and their modification by fertility and geographic group. Analyzing trends by birth cohorts instead of year of sample collection may aid in assessing the causes of the decline (prenatal or in adult life) but was not feasible owing to lack of information.

This rigorous and comprehensive analysis found that SC declined 52.4% between 1973 and 2011 among unselected men from western countries, with no evidence of a ‘leveling off’ in recent years. Declining mean SC implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility. The high proportion of men from western countries with concentration below 40 million/ml is particularly concerning given the evidence that SC below this threshold is associated with a decreased monthly probability of conception.

Declines in sperm count have implications beyond fertility and reproduction. The decline reported in this study is consistent with reported trends in other male reproductive health indicators, such as testicular germ cell tumors, cryptorchidism, onset of male puberty and total testosterone levels. The public health implications are even wider. Recent studies have shown that poor sperm count is associated with overall morbidity and mortality. While the current study is not designed to provide direct information on the causes of the observed declines, sperm count has been plausibly associated with multiple environmental and lifestyle influences, both prenatally and in adult life. In particular, endocrine disruption from chemical exposures or maternal smoking during critical windows of male reproductive development may play a role in prenatal life, while lifestyle changes and exposure to pesticides may play a role in adult life.

These findings strongly suggest a significant decline in male reproductive health, which has serious implications beyond fertility concerns. Research on causes and implications of this decline is urgently needed.

 

REFERENCES

Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis 

Hagai Levine, Niels Jørgensen, Anderson Martino‐Andrade, Jaime Mendiola, Dan Weksler-Derri, Irina Mindlis, Rachel Pinotti, Shanna H Swan. Human Reproduction Update, July 25, 2017, doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx022.

Link: https://academic.oup.com/humupd/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/humupd/dmx022.

Sperm Counts Are Declining Among Western Men – Interview with Dr. Hagai Levine

https://news.afhu.org/news/sperm-counts-are-declining-among-western-men?utm_source=Master+List&utm_campaign=dca529d919-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_343e19a421-dca529d919-92801633

J Urol. 1983 Sep;130(3):467-75.

A critical method of evaluating tests for male infertility.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6688444

Hum Reprod. 1993 Jan;8(1):65-70.

Estimating fertility potential via semen analysis data.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8458929

Lancet. 1998 Oct 10;352(9135):1172-7.

Relation between semen quality and fertility: a population-based study of 430 first-pregnancy planners.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9777833

Hum Reprod Update. 2010 May-Jun;16(3):231-45. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmp048. Epub 2009 Nov 24.

World Health Organization reference values for human semen characteristics.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19934213

J Nutr. 2016 May;146(5):1084-92. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.226563. Epub 2016 Apr 13.

Intake of Fruits and Vegetables with Low-to-Moderate Pesticide Residues Is Positively Associated with Semen-Quality Parameters among Young Healthy Men.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27075904

Reprod Toxicol. 2003 Jul-Aug;17(4):451-6.

Semen quality of Indian welders occupationally exposed to nickel and chromium.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12849857

Fertil Steril. 1996 May;65(5):1009-14.

Semen analyses in 1,283 men from the United States over a 25-year period: no decline in quality.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8612826

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Beyond tau and amyloid

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

 

BEYOND AΒ AND TAU: OTHER TOXIC INSULTS AND AD PATHOLOGY

 

Neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.

Berislav V. Zlokovic

Nature Reviews Neuroscience 12, 723-738 (December 2011) |   http:dx.doi.org:/10.1038/nrn3114

The neurovascular unit (NVU) comprises brain endothelial cells, pericytes or vascular smooth muscle cells, glia and neurons. The NVU controls blood–brain barrier (BBB) permeability and cerebral blood flow, and maintains the chemical composition of the neuronal ‘milieu’, which is required for proper functioning of neuronal circuits. Recent evidence indicates that BBB dysfunction is associated with the accumulation of several vasculotoxic and neurotoxic molecules within brain parenchyma, a reduction in cerebral blood flow, and hypoxia. Together, these vascular-derived insults might initiate and/or contribute to neuronal degeneration. This article examines mechanisms of BBB dysfunction in neurodegenerative disorders, notably Alzheimer’s disease, and highlights therapeutic opportunities relating to these neurovascular deficits.

 

Summary

The neurovascular unit comprises vascular cells (endothelial cells, pericytes and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs)), glial cells (astrocytes, microglia and oliogodendroglia) and neurons.
Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are associated with microvascular dysfunction and/or degeneration in the brain, neurovascular disintegration, defective blood–brain barrier (BBB) function and/or vascular factors.
The interactions between endothelial cells and pericytes are crucial for the formation and maintenance of the BBB. Indeed, pericyte deficiency leads to BBB breakdown and extravasation of multiple vasculotoxic and neurotoxic circulating macromolecules, which can contribute to neuronal dysfunction, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative changes.
Alterations in cerebrovascular metabolic functions can also lead to the secretion of multiple neurotoxic and inflammatory factors.
BBB dysfunction and/or breakdown and cerebral blood flow (CBF) reductions and/or dysregulation may occur in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease and experimental models of this disease before cognitive decline, amyloid-β deposition and brain atrophy. In patients with ALS and in some experimental models of ALS, CBF dysregulation, blood–spinal cord barrier breakdown and spinal cord hypoperfusion have been reported prior to motor neuron cell death.
Several studies in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and, more recently, in patients with this disorder have shown diminished amyloid-β clearance from brain tissue. The recognition of amyloid-β clearance pathways opens exciting new therapeutic opportunities for this disease.
‘Multiple-target, multiple-action’ agents will stand a better chance of controlling the complex disease mechanisms that mediate neurodegeneration in disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease than will agents that have only one target. According to the vasculo-neuronal-inflammatory triad model of neurodegenerative disorders, in addition to neurons, brain endothelium, VSMCs, pericytes, astrocytes and activated microglia all represent important therapeutic targets.

 

Neurons depend on blood vessels for their oxygen and nutrient supplies, and for the removal of carbon dioxide and other potentially toxic metabolites from the brain’s interstitial fluid (ISF). The importance of the circulatory system to the human brain is highlighted by the fact that although the brain comprises ~2% of total body mass, it receives up to 20% of cardiac output and is responsible for ~20% and ~25% of the body’s oxygen consumption and glucose consumption, respectively1. To underline this point, when cerebral blood flow (CBF) stops, brain functions end within seconds and damage to neurons occurs within minutes2.

Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are associated with microvascular dysfunction and/or degeneration in the brain, neurovascular disintegration, defective blood–brain barrier (BBB) function and/or vascular factors1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Microvascular deficits diminish CBF and, consequently, the brain’s supply of oxygen, energy substrates and nutrients. Moreover, such deficits impair the clearance of neurotoxic molecules that accumulate and/or are deposited in the ISF, non-neuronal cells and neurons. Recent evidence suggests that vascular dysfunction leads to neuronal dysfunction and neurodegeneration, and that it might contribute to the development of proteinaceous brain and cerebrovascular ‘storage’ disorders. Such disorders include cerebral β-amyloidosis and cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), which are caused by accumulation of the peptide amyloid-β in the brain and the vessel wall, respectively, and are features of Alzheimer’s disease1.

In this Review, I will discuss neurovascular pathways to neurodegeneration, placing a focus on Alzheimer’s disease because more is known about neurovascular dysfunction in this disease than in other neurodegenerative disorders. The article first examines transport mechanisms for molecules to cross the BBB, before exploring the processes that are involved in BBB breakdown at the molecular and cellular levels, and the consequences of BBB breakdown, hypoperfusion, and hypoxia and endothelial metabolic dysfunction for neuronal function. Next, the article reviews evidence for neurovascular changes during normal ageing and neurovascular BBB dysfunction in various neurodegenerative diseases, including evidence suggesting that vascular defects precede neuronal changes. Finally, the article considers specific mechanisms that are associated with BBB dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease and ALS, and therapeutic opportunities relating to these neurovascular deficits.

The neurovascular unit

The neurovascular unit (NVU) comprises vascular cells (that is, endothelium, pericytes and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs)), glial cells (that is, astrocytes, microglia and oliogodendroglia) and neurons1,2, 13 (Fig. 1). In the NVU, the endothelial cells together form a highly specialized membrane around blood vessels. This membrane underlies the BBB and limits the entry of plasma components, red blood cells (RBCs) and leukocytes into the brain. The BBB also regulates the delivery into the CNS of circulating energy metabolites and essential nutrients that are required for proper neuronal and synaptic function. Non-neuronal cells and neurons act in concert to control BBB permeability and CBF. Vascular cells and glia are primarily responsible for maintenance of the constant ‘chemical’ composition of the ISF, and the BBB and the blood–spinal cord barrier (BSCB) work together with pericytes to prevent various potentially neurotoxic and vasculotoxic macromolecules in the blood from entering the CNS, and to promote clearance of these substances from the CNS1.

In the brain, pial arteries run through the subarachnoid space (SAS), which contains the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). These vessels give rise to intracerebral arteries, which penetrate into brain parenchyma. Intracerebral arteries are separated from brain parenchyma by a single, interrupted layer of elongated fibroblast-like cells of the pia and the astrocyte-derived glia limitans membrane that forms the outer wall of the perivascular Virchow–Robin space. These arteries branch into smaller arteries and subsequently arterioles, which lose support from the glia limitans and give rise to pre-capillary arterioles and brain capillaries. In an intracerebral artery, the vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) layer occupies most of the vessel wall. At the brain capillary level, vascular endothelial cells and pericytes are attached to the basement membrane. Pericyte processes encase most of the capillary wall, and they communicate with endothelial cells directly through synapse-like contacts containing connexins and N-cadherin. Astrocyte end-foot processes encase the capillary wall, which is composed of endothelium and pericytes. Resting microglia have a ‘ramified’ shape and can sense neuronal injury.

Figure 2 | Blood–brain barrier transport mechanisms.

Small lipophilic drugs, oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse across the blood–brain barrier (BBB), whereas ions require ATP-dependent transporters such as the (Na++K+)ATPase. Transporters for nutrients include the glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1; also known as solute carrier family 2, facilitated glucose transporter member 1 (SLC2A1)), the lactate transporter monocarboxylate transporter 1 (MCT1) and the L1 and y+ transporters for large neutral and cationic essential amino acids, respectively. These four transporters are expressed at both the luminal and albuminal membranes. Non-essential amino acid transporters (the alanine, serine and cysteine preferring system (ASC), and the alanine preferring system (A)) and excitatory amino acid transporter 1 (EAAT1), EAAT2 and EAAT3 are located at the abluminal side. The ATP-binding cassette (ABC) efflux transporters that are found in the endothelial cells include multidrug resistance protein 1 (ABCB1; also known as ATP-binding cassette subfamily B member 1) and solute carrier organic anion transporter family member 1C1 (OATP1C1). Finally, transporters for peptides or proteins include the endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR) for activated protein C (APC); the insulin receptors (IRs) and the transferrin receptors (TFRs), which are associated with caveolin 1 (CAV1); low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (LRP1) for amyloid-β, peptide transport system 1 (PTS1) for encephalins; and the PTS2 and PTS4–vasopressin V1a receptor (V1AR) for arginine vasopressin.

 

Transport across the blood–brain barrier. The endothelial cells that form the BBB are connected by tight and adherens junctions, and it is the tight junctions that confer the low paracellular permeability of the BBB1. Small lipophilic molecules, oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse freely across the endothelial cells, and hence the BBB, but normal brain endothelium lacks fenestrae and has limited vesicular transport.

The high number of mitochondria in endothelial cells reflects a high energy demand for active ATP-dependent transport, conferred by transporters such as the sodium pump ((Na++K+)ATPase) and the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) efflux transporters. Sodium influx and potassium efflux across the abluminal side of the BBB is controlled by (Na++K+)ATPase (Fig. 2). Changes in sodium and potassium levels in the ISF influence the generation of action potentials in neurons and thus directly affect neuronal and synaptic functions1, 12.

Brain endothelial cells express transporters that facilitate the transport of nutrients down their concentration gradients, as described in detail elsewhere1, 14 (Fig. 2). Glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1; also known as solute carrier family 2, facilitated glucose transporter member 1 (SLC2A1)) — the BBB-specific glucose transporter — is of special importance because glucose is a key energy source for the brain.

Monocarboxylate transporter 1 (MCT1), which transports lactate, and the L1 and y+ amino acid transporters are expressed at the luminal and abluminal membranes12, 14. Sodium-dependent excitatory amino acid transporter 1 (EAAT1), EAAT2 and EAAT3 are expressed at the abluminal side of the BBB15 and enable removal of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, from the brain (Fig. 2). Glutamate clearance at the BBB is essential for protecting neurons from overstimulation of glutaminergic receptors, which is neurotoxic16.

ABC transporters limit the penetration of many drugs into the brain17. For example, multidrug resistance protein 1 (ABCB1; also known as ATP-binding cassette subfamily B member 1) controls the rapid removal of ingested toxic lipophilic metabolites17 (Fig. 2). Some ABC transporters also mediate the efflux of nutrients from the endothelium into the ISF. For example, solute carrier organic anion transporter family member 1C1 (OATP1C1) transports thyroid hormones into the brain. MCT8 mediates influx of thyroid hormones from blood into the endothelium18 (Fig. 2).

The transport of circulating peptides across the BBB into the brain is restricted or slow compared with the transport of nutrients19. Carrier-mediated transport of neuroactive peptides controls their low levels in the ISF20, 21, 22, 23, 24 (Fig. 2). Some proteins, including transferrin, insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), leptin25, 26, 27 and activatedprotein C (APC)28, cross the BBB by receptor-mediated transcytosis (Fig. 2).

Circumventricular organs. Several small neuronal structures that surround brain ventricles lack the BBB and sense chemical changes in blood or the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) directly. These brain areas are known as circumventricular organs (CVOs). CVOs have important roles in multiple endocrine and autonomic functions, including the control of feeding behaviour as well as regulation of water and salt metabolism29. For example, the subfornical organ is one of the CVOs that are capable of sensing extracellular sodium using astrocyte-derived lactate as a signal for local neurons to initiate neural, hormonal and behavioural responses underlying sodium homeostasis30. Excessive sodium accumulation is detrimental, and increases in plasma sodium above a narrow range are incompatible with life, leading to cerebral oedema (swelling), seizures and death29.

Vascular-mediated pathophysiology

The key pathways of vascular dysfunction that are linked to neurodegenerative diseases include BBB breakdown, hypoperfusion–hypoxia and endothelial metabolic dysfunction (Fig. 3). This section examines processes that are involved in BBB breakdown at the molecular and cellular levels, and explores the consequences of all three pathways for neuronal function and viability.

Figure 3 | Vascular-mediated neuronal damage and neurodegeneration.

a | Blood–brain barrier (BBB) breakdown that is caused by pericyte detachment leads to leakage of serum proteins and focal microhaemorrhages, with extravasation of red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs release haemoglobin, which is a source of iron. In turn, this metal catalyses the formation of toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS) that mediate neuronal injury. Albumin promotes the development of vasogenic oedema, contributing to hypoperfusion and hypoxia of the nervous tissue, which aggravates neuronal injury. A defective BBB allows several potentially vasculotoxic and neurotoxic proteins (for example, thrombin, fibrin and plasmin) to enter the brain. b | Progressive reductions in cerebral blood flow (CBF) lead to increasing neuronal dysfunction. Mild hypoperfusion, oligaemia, leads to a decrease in protein synthesis, whereas more-severe reductions in CBF, leading to hypoxia, cause an array of detrimental effects.


Blood–brain barrier breakdown. Disruption to tight and adherens junctions, an increase in bulk-flow fluid transcytosis, and/or enzymatic degradation of the capillary basement membrane cause physical breakdown of the BBB.

The levels of many tight junction proteins, their adaptor molecules and adherens junction proteins decrease in Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases that cause dementia1, 9, ALS31, multiple sclerosis32 and various animal models of neurological disease8, 33. These decreases might be partly explained by the fact that vascular-associated matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity rises in many neurodegenerative disorders and after ischaemic CNS injury34, 35; tight junction proteins and basement membrane extracellular matrix proteins are substrates for these enzymes34. Lowered expression of messenger RNAs that encode several key tight junction proteins, however, has also been reported in some neurodegenerative disorders, such as ALS31.

Endothelial cell–pericyte interactions are crucial for the formation36, 37and maintenance of the BBB33, 38. Pericyte deficiency can lead to a reduction in expression of certain tight junction proteins, including occludin, claudin 5 and ZO1 (Ref. 33), and to an increase in bulk-flow transcytosis across the BBB, causing BBB breakdown38. Both processes can lead to extravasation of multiple small and large circulating macromolecules (up to 500 kDa) into the brain parenchyma33, 38. Moreover, in mice, an age-dependent progressive loss of pericytes can lead to BBB disruption and microvasular degeneration and, subsequently, neuronal dysfunction, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative changes33. In their lysosomes, pericytes concentrate and degrade multiple circulating exogenous39 and endogenous proteins, including serum immunoglobulins and fibrin33, which amplify BBB breakdown in cases of pericyte deficiency.

BBB breakdown typically leads to an accumulation of various molecules in the brain. The build up of serum proteins such as immunoglobulins and albumin can cause brain oedema and suppression of capillary blood flow8, 33, whereas high concentrations of thrombin lead to neurotoxicity and memory impairment40, and accelerate vascular damage and BBB disruption41. The accumulation of plasmin (derived from circulating plasminogen) can catalyse the degradation of neuronal laminin and, hence, promote neuronal injury42, and high fibrin levels accelerate neurovascular damage6. Finally, an increase in the number of RBCs causes deposition of haemoglobin-derived neurotoxic products including iron, which generates neurotoxic reactive oxygen species (ROS)8, 43(Fig. 3a). In addition to protein-mediated vasogenic oedema, local tissue ischaemia–hypoxia depletes ATP stores, causing (Na++K+)ATPase pumps and Na+-dependent ion channels to stop working and, consequently, the endothelium and astrocytes to swell (known as cytotoxic oedema)44. Upregulation of aquaporin 4 water channels in response to ischaemia facilitates the development of cytotoxic oedema in astrocytes45.

Hypoperfusion and hypoxia. CBF is regulated by local neuronal activity and metabolism, known as neurovascular coupling46. The pial and intracerebral arteries control the local increase in CBF that occurs during brain activation, which is termed ‘functional hyperaemia’. Neurovascular coupling requires intact pial circulation, and for VSMCs and pericytes to respond normally to vasoactive stimuli33, 46, 47. In addition to VSMC-mediated constriction and vasodilation of cerebral arteries, recent studies have shown that pericytes modulate brain capillary diameter through constriction of the vessel wall47, which obstructs capillary flow during ischaemia48. Astrocytes regulate the contractility of intracerebral arteries49, 50.

Progressive CBF reductions have increasingly serious consequences for neurons (Fig. 3b). Briefly, mild hypoperfusion — termed oligaemia — affects protein synthesis, which is required for the synaptic plasticity mediating learning and memory46. Moderate to severe CBF reductions and hypoxia affect ATP synthesis, diminishing (Na++K+)ATPase activity and the ability of neurons to generate action potentials9. In addition, such reductions can lower or increase pH, and alter electrolyte balances and water gradients, leading to the development of oedema and white matter lesions, and the accumulation of glutamate and proteinaceous toxins (for example, amyloid-β and hyperphopshorylated tau) in the brain. A reduction of greater than 80% in CBF results in neuronal death2.

The effect of CBF reductions has been extensively studied at the molecular and cellular levels in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. Reduced CBF and/or CBF dysregulation occurs in elderly individuals at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease before cognitive decline, brain atrophy and amyloid-β accumulation10, 46, 51, 52, 53, 54. In animal models, hypoperfusion can induce or amplify Alzheimer’s disease-like neuronal dysfunction and/or neuropathological changes. For example, bilateral carotid occlusion in rats causes memory impairment, neuronal dysfunction, synaptic changes and amyloid-β oligomerization55, leading to accumulation of neurotoxic amyloid-β oligomers56. In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, oligaemia increases neuronal amyloid-β levels and neuronal tau phosphophorylation at an epitope that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease-type paired helical filaments57. In rodents, ischaemia leads to the accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau in neurons and the formation of filaments that resemble those present in human neurodegenerative tauopathies and Alzheimer’s disease58. Mice expressing amyloid-β precursor protein (APP) and transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1) develop deficient neurovascular coupling, cholinergic denervation, enhanced cerebral and cerebrovascular amyloid-β deposition, and age-dependent cognitive decline59.

Recent studies have shown that ischaemia–hypoxia influences amyloidogenic APP processing through mechanisms that increase the activity of two key enzymes that are necessary for amyloid-β production; that is, β-secretase and γ-secretase60, 61, 62, 63. Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF1α) mediates transcriptional increase in β-secretase expression61. Hypoxia also promotes phosphorylation of tau through the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK; also known as extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)) pathway64, downregulates neprilysin — an amyloid-β-degrading enzyme65 — and leads to alterations in the expression of vascular-specific genes, including a reduction in the expression of the homeobox protein MOX2 gene mesenchyme homeobox 2 (MEOX2) in brain endothelial cells5 and an increase in the expression of the myocardin gene (MYOCD) in VSMCs66. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease and in models of this disorder, these changes cause vessel regression, hypoperfusion and amyloid-β accumulation resulting from the loss of the key amyloid-β clearance lipoprotein receptor (see below). In addition, hypoxia facilitates alternative splicing of Eaat2 mRNA in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice before amyloid-β deposition67 and suppresses glutamate reuptake by astrocytes independently of amyloid formation68, resulting in glutamate-mediated neuronal injury that is independent of amyloid-β.

In response to hypoxia, mitochondria release ROS that mediate oxidative damage to the vascular endothelium and to the selective population of neurons that has high metabolic activity. Such damage has been suggested to occur before neuronal degeneration and amyloid-β deposition in Alzheimer’s disease69, 70. Although the exact triggers of hypoxia-mediated neurodegeneration and the role of HIF1α in neurodegeneration versus preconditioning-mediated neuroprotection remain topics of debate, mitochondria-generated ROS seem to have a primary role in the regulation of the HIF1α-mediated transcriptional switch that can activate an array of responses, ranging from mechanisms that increase cell survival and adaptation to mechanisms inducing cell cycle arrest and death71. Whether inhibition of hypoxia-mediated pathogenic pathways will delay onset and/or control progression in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease remains to be determined.

When comparing the contributions of BBB breakdown and hypoperfusion to neuronal injury, it is interesting to consider Meox2+/− mice. Such animals have normal pericyte coverage and an intact BBB but a substantial perfusion deficit5 that is comparable to that found in pericyte-deficient mice that develop BBB breakdown33 Notably, however, Meox2+/− mice show less pronounced neurodegenerative changes than pericyte-deficient mice, indicating that chronic hypoperfusion–hypoxia alone can cause neuronal injury, but not to the same extent as hypoperfusion–hypoxia combined with BBB breakdown.

Endothelial neurotoxic and inflammatory factors. Alterations in cerebrovascular metabolic functions can lead to the secretion of multiple neurotoxic and inflammatory factors72, 73. For example, brain microvessels that have been isolated from individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (but not from neurologically normal age-matched and young individuals) and brain microvessels that have been treated with inflammatory proteins release neurotoxic factors that kill neurons74, 75. These factors include thrombin, the levels of which increase with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease76. Thrombin can injure neurons directly40and indirectly by activating microglia and astrocytes73. Compared with those from age-matched controls, brain microvessels from individuals with Alzheimer’s disease secrete increased levels of multiple inflammatory mediators, such as nitric oxide, cytokines (for example, tumour necrosis factor (TNF), TGFβ1, interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and IL-6), chemokines (for example, CC-chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2; also known as monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP1)) and IL-8), prostaglandins, MMPs and leukocyte adhesion molecules73. Endothelium-derived neurotoxic and inflammatory factors together provide a molecular link between vascular metabolic dysfunction, neuronal injury and inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease and, possibly, in other neurodegenerative disorders.

Neurovascular changes

This section examines evidence for neurovascular changes during normal ageing and for neurovascular and/or BBB dysfunction in various neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the possibility that vascular defects can precede neuronal changes.

Age-associated neurovascular changes. Normal ageing diminishes brain circulatory functions, including a detectable decay of CBF in the limbic and association cortices that has been suggested to underlie age-related cognitive changes77. Alterations in the cerebral microvasculature, but not changes in neural activity, have been shown to lead to age-dependent reductions in functional hyperaemia in the visual system in cats78 and in the sensorimotor cortex in pericyte-deficient mice33. Importantly, a recent longitudinal CBF study in neurologically normal individuals revealed that people bearing the apolipoprotein E (APOE) ɛ4allele — the major genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease79, 80, 81 — showed greater regional CBF decline in brain regions that are particularly vulnerable to pathological changes in Alzheimer’s disease than did people without this allele82.

A meta-analysis of BBB permeability in 1,953 individuals showed that neurologically healthy humans had an age-dependent increase in vascular permeability83. Moreover, patients with vascular or Alzheimer’s disease-type dementia and leucoaraiosis — a small-vessel disease of the cerebral white matter — had an even greater age-dependent increase in vascular permeability83. Interestingly, an increase in BBB permeability in brain areas with normal white matter in patients with leukoaraiosis has been suggested to play a causal part in disease and the development of lacunar strokes84. Age-related changes in the permeability of the blood–CSF barrier and the choroid plexus have been reported in sheep85.

Vascular pathology. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-causing diseases frequently show focal changes in brain microcirculation. These changes include the appearance of string vessels (collapsed and acellular membrane tubes), a reduction in capillary density, a rise in endothelial pinocytosis, a decrease in mitochondrial content, accumulation of collagen and perlecans in the basement membrane, loss of tight junctions and/or adherens junctions3, 4, 5, 6, 9,46, 86, and BBB breakdown with leakage of blood-borne molecules4, 6,7, 9. The time course of these vascular alterations and how they relate to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease pathology remain unclear, as no protocol that allows the development of the diverse brain vascular pathology to be scored, and hence to be tracked with ageing, has so far been developed and widely validated87. Interestingly, a recent study involving 500 individuals who died between the ages of 69 and 103 years showed that small-vessel disease, infarcts and the presence of more than one vascular pathological change were associated with Alzheimer’s disease-type pathological lesions and dementia in people aged 75 years of age87. These associations were, however, less pronounced in individuals aged 95 years of age, mainly because of a marked ageing-related reduction in Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology relative to a moderate but insignificant ageing-related reduction in vascular pathology87.

Accumulation of amyloid-β and amyloid deposition in pial and intracerebral arteries results in CAA, which is present in over 80% of Alzheimer’s disease cases88. In patients who have Alzheimer’s disease with established CAA in small arteries and arterioles, the VSMC layer frequently shows atrophy, which causes a rupture of the vessel wall and intracerebral bleeding in about 30% of these patients89, 90. These intracerebral bleedings contribute to, and aggravate, dementia. Patients with hereditary cerebral β-amyloidosis and CAA of the Dutch, Iowa, Arctic, Flemish, Italian or Piedmont L34V type have accelerated VSMC degeneration resulting in haemorrhagic strokes and dementia91. Duplication of the gene encoding APP causes early-onset Alzheimer’s disease dementia with CAA and intracerebral haemorrhage92.

Early studies of serum immunoglobulin leakage reported that patients with ALS had BSCB breakdown and BBB breakdown in the motor cortex93. Microhaemorrhages and BSCB breakdown have been shown in the spinal cord of transgenic mice expressing mutant variants of human superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1), which in mice cause an ALS-like disease8, 94, 95. In mice with ALS-like disease and in patients with ALS, BSCB breakdown has been shown to occur before motor neuron degeneration or brain atrophy8, 11, 95.

BBB breakdown in the substantia nigra and the striatum has been detected in murine models of Parkinson’s disease that are induced by administration of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)96, 97, 98. However, the temporal relationship between BBB breakdown and neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease is currently unknown. Notably, the prevalence of CAA and vascular lesions increases in Parkinson’s disease99, 100. Vascular lesions in the striatum and lacunar infarcts can cause vascular parkinsonism syndrome101. A recent study reported BBB breakdown in a rat model of Huntington’s disease that is induced with the toxin 3-nitropropionic acid102.

Several studies have established disruption of BBB with a loss of tight junction proteins during neuroinflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis and its murine model, experimental allergic encephalitis. Such disruption facilitates leukocyte infiltration, leading to oliogodendrocyte death, axonal damage, demyelination and lesion development32.

Functional changes in the vasculature. In individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, GLUT1 expression at the BBB decreases103, suggesting a shortage in necessary metabolic substrates. Studies using18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET) have identified reductions in glucose uptake in asymptomatic individuals with a high risk of dementia104, 105. Several studies have suggested that reduced glucose uptake across the BBB, as seen by FDG PET, precedes brain atrophy104, 105, 106, 107, 108.

Amyloid-β constricts cerebral arteries109. In a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, impairment of endothelium-dependent regulation of neocortical microcirculation110, 111 occurs before amyloid-β accumulation. Recent studies have shown that CD36, a scavenger receptor that binds amyloid-β, is essential for the vascular oxidative stress and diminished functional hyperaemia that occurs in response to amyloid-β exposure112. Neuroimaging studies in patients with Alzheimer’s disease have shown that neurovascular uncoupling occurs before neurodegenerative changes10, 51, 52, 53. Moreover, cognitively normal APOE ɛ4 carriers at risk of Alzheimer’s disease show impaired CBF responses to brain activation in the absence of neurodegenerative changes or amyloid-β accumulation54. Recently, patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well as mouse models of this disease with high cerebrovascular levels of serum response factor (SRF) and MYOCD, the two transcription factors that control VSMC differentiation, have been shown to develop a hypercontractile arterial phenotype resulting in brain hypoperfusion, diminished functional hyperaemia and CAA66, 113. More work is needed to establish the exact role of SRF and MYOCD in the vascular dysfunction that results in the Alzheimer’s disease phenotype and CAA.

PET studies with 11C-verapamil, an ABCB1 substrate, have indicated that the function of ABCB1, which removes multiple drugs and toxins from the brain, decreases with ageing114 and is particularly compromised in the midbrain of patients with Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy or multiple system atrophy115. More work is needed to establish the exact roles of ABC BBB transporters in neurodegeneration and whether their failure precedes the loss of dopaminergic neurons that occurs in Parkinson’s disease.

In mice with ALS-like disease and in patients with ALS, hypoperfusion and/or dysregulated CBF have been shown to occur before motor neuron degeneration or brain atrophy8, 116. Reduced regional CBF in basal ganglia and reduced blood volume have been reported in pre-symptomatic gene-tested individuals at risk for Huntington’s disease117. Patients with Huntington’s disease display a reduction in vasomotor activity in the cerebral anterior artery during motor activation118.

Vascular and neuronal common growth factors. Blood vessels and neurons share common growth factors and molecular pathways that regulate their development and maintenance119, 120. Angioneurins are growth factors that exert both vasculotrophic and neurotrophic activities121. The best studied angioneurin is vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF regulates vessel formation, axonal growth and neuronal survival120. Ephrins, semaphorins, slits and netrins are axon guidance factors that also regulate the development of the vascular system121. During embryonic development of the neural tube, blood vessels and choroid plexus secrete IGF2 into the CSF, which regulates the proliferation of neuronal progenitor cells122. Genetic and pharmacological manipulations of angioneurin activity yielded various vascular and cerebral phenotypes121. Given the dual nature of angioneurin action, these studies have not been able to address whether neuronal dysfunction results from a primary insult to neurons and/or whether it is secondary to vascular dysfunction.

Increased levels of VEGF, a hypoxia-inducible angiogenic factor, were found in the walls of intraparenchymal vessels, perivascular deposits, astrocytes and intrathecal space of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and were consistent with the chronic cerebral hypoperfusion and hypoxia that were observed in these individuals73. In addition to VEGF, brain microvessels in Alzheimer’s disease release several molecules that can influence angiogenesis, including IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, TNF, TGFβ, MCP1, thrombin, angiopoietin 2, αVβ3 and αVβ5 integrins, and HIF1α73. However, evidence for increased vascularity in Alzheimer’s disease is lacking. On the contrary, several studies have reported that focal vascular regression and diminished microvascular density occur in Alzheimer’s disease4, 5, 73 and in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice123. The reason for this discrepancy is not clear. The anti-angiogenic activity of amyloid-β, which accumulates in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease models, may contribute to hypovascularity123. Conversely, genome-wide transcriptional profiling of brain endothelial cells from patients with Alzheimer’s disease revealed that extremely low expression of vascular-restricted MEOX2 mediates aberrant angiogenic responses to VEGF and hypoxia, leading to capillary death5. This finding raises the interesting question of whether capillary degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease results from unsuccessful vascular repair and/or remodelling. Moreover, mice that lack one Meox2 allele have been shown to develop a primary cerebral endothelial hypoplasia with chronic brain hypoperfusion5, resulting in secondary neurodegenerative changes33.

Does vascular dysfunction cause neuronal dysfunction? In summary, the evidence that is discussed above clearly indicates that vascular dysfunction is tightly linked to neuronal dysfunction. There are many examples to illustrate that primary vascular deficits lead to secondary neurodegeneration, including CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts), an hereditary small-vessel brain disease resulting in multiple small ischaemic lesions, neurodegeneration and dementia124; mutations in SLC2A1 that cause dysfunction of the BBB-specific GLUT1 transporter in humans resulting in seizures; cognitive impairment and microcephaly125; microcephaly and epileptiform discharges in mice with genetic deletion of a single Slc2a1allele126; and neurodegeneration mediated by a single Meox2 homebox gene deletion restricted to the vascular system33. Patients with hereditary cerebral β-amyloidosis and CAA of the Dutch, Iowa, Arctic, Flemish, Italian or Piedmont L34V type provide another example showing that primary vascular dysfunction — which in this case is caused by deposition of vasculotropic amyloid-β mutants in the arterial vessel wall — leads to dementia and intracerebral bleeding. Moreover, as reviewed in the previous sections, recent evidence suggests that BBB dysfunction and/or breakdown, and CBF reductions and/or dysregulation may occur in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease and experimental models of this disease before cognitive decline, amyloid-β deposition and brain atrophy. In patients with ALS and in some experimental models of ALS, CBF dysregulation, BSCB breakdown and spinal cord hypoperfusion have been reported to occur before motor neuron cell death. Whether neurological changes follow or precede vascular dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis remains less clear. However, there is little doubt that vascular injury mediates, amplifies and/or lowers the threshold for neuronal dysfunction and loss in several neurological disorders.

Disease-specific considerations

This section examines how amyloid-β levels are kept low in the brain, a process in which the BBB has a central role, and how faulty BBB-mediated clearance mechanisms go awry in Alzheimer’s disease. On the basis of this evidence and the findings discussed elsewhere in the Review, a new hypothesis for the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease that incorporates the vascular evidence is presented. ALS-specific disease mechanisms relating to the BBB are then examined.

Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid-β clearance from the brain by the BBB is the best studied example of clearance of a proteinaceous toxin from the CNS. Multiple pathways regulate brain amyloid-β levels, including its production and clearance (Fig. 4). Recent studies127, 128, 129 have confirmed earlier findings in multiple rodent and non-human primate models demonstrating that peripheral amyloid-β is an important precursor of brain amyloid-β130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136. Moreover, peripheral amyloid-β sequestering agents such as soluble LRP1 (ref.137), anti-amyloid-β antibodies138, 139, 140, gelsolin and the ganglioside GM1 (Ref. 141), or systemic expression of neprilysin142, 143have been shown to reduce the amyloid burden in Alzheimer’s disease mice by eliminating contributions of the peripheral amyloid-β pool to the total brain pool of this peptide.

Figure 4 | The role of blood–brain barrier transport in brain homeostasis of amyloid-β.

Amyloid-β (Aβ) is produced from the amyloid-β precursor protein (APP), both in the brain and in peripheral tissues. Clearance of amyloid-β from the brain normally maintains its low levels in the brain. This peptide is cleared across the blood–brain barrier (BBB) by the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (LRP1). LRP1 mediates rapid efflux of a free, unbound form of amyloid-β and of amyloid-β bound to apolipoprotein E2 (APOE2), APOE3 or α2-macroglobulin (not shown) from the brain’s interstitial fluid into the blood, and APOE4 inhibits such transport. LRP2 eliminates amyloid-β that is bound to clusterin (CLU; also known as apolipoprotein J (APOJ)) by transport across the BBB, and shows a preference for the 42-amino-acid form of this peptide. ATP-binding cassette subfamily A member 1 (ABCA1; also known as cholesterol efflux regulatory protein) mediates amyloid-β efflux from the brain endothelium to blood across the luminal side of the BBB (not shown). Cerebral endothelial cells, pericytes, vascular smooth muscle cells, astrocytes, microglia and neurons express different amyloid-β-degrading enzymes, including neprilysin (NEP), insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which contribute to amyloid-β clearance. In the circulation, amyloid-β is bound mainly to soluble LRP1 (sLRP1), which normally prevents its entry into the brain. Systemic clearance of amyloid-β is mediated by its removal by the liver and kidneys. The receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) provides the key mechanism for influx of peripheral amyloid-β into the brain across the BBB either as a free, unbound plasma-derived peptide and/or by amyloid-β-laden monocytes. Faulty vascular clearance of amyloid-β from the brain and/or an increased re-entry of peripheral amyloid-β across the blood vessels into the brain can elevate amyloid-β levels in the brain parenchyma and around cerebral blood vessels. At pathophysiological concentrations, amyloid-β forms neurotoxic oligomers and also self-aggregates, which leads to the development of cerebral β-amyloidosis and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.


The receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) mediates amyloid-β transport in brain and the propagation of its toxicity. RAGE expression in brain endothelium provides a mechanism for influx of amyloid-β144, 145 and amyloid-β-laden monocytes146 across the BBB, as shown in Alzheimer’s disease models (Fig. 4). The amyloid-β-rich environment in Alzheimer’s disease and models of this disorder increases RAGE expression at the BBB and in neurons147, 148, amplifying amyloid-β-mediated pathogenic responses. Blockade of amyloid-β–RAGE signalling in Alzheimer’s disease is a promising strategy to control self-propagation of amyloid-β-mediated injury.

Several studies in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and, more recently, in patients with this disorder149 have shown that diminished amyloid-β clearance occurs in brain tissue in this disease. LRP1 plays an important part in the three-step serial clearance of this peptide from brain and the rest of the body150 (Fig. 4). In step one, LRP1 in brain endothelium binds brain-derived amyloid-β at the abluminal side of the BBB, initiating its clearance to blood, as shown in many animal models151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156 and BBB models in vitro151, 157,158. The vasculotropic mutants of amyloid-β that have low binding affinity for LRP1 are poorly cleared from the brain or CSF151, 159, 160. APOE4, but not APOE3 or APOE2, blocks LRP1-mediated amyloid-β clearance from the brain and, hence, promotes its retention161, whereas clusterin (also known as apolipoprotein J (APOJ)) mediates amyloid-β clearance across the BBB via LRP2 (Ref. 153). APOE and clusterin influence amyloid-β aggregation162, 163. Reduced LRP1 levels in brain microvessels, perhaps in addition to altered levels of ABCB1, are associated with amyloid-β cerebrovascular and brain accumulation during ageing in rodents, non-human primates, humans, Alzheimer’s disease mice and patients with Alzheimer’s disease66, 151, 152, 164, 165, 166. Moreover, recent work has shown that brain LRP1 is oxidized in Alzheimer’s disease167, and may contribute to amyloid-β retention in brain because the oxidized form cannot bind and/or transport amyloid-β137. LRP1 also mediates the removal of amyloid-β from the choroid plexus168.

In step two, circulating soluble LRP1 binds more than 70% of plasma amyloid-β in neurologically normal humans137. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and in Alzheimer’s disease mice, amyloid-β binding to soluble LRP1 is compromised due to oxidative changes137, 169, resulting in elevated plasma levels of free amyloid-β isoforms comprising 40 or 42 amino acids (amyloid-β1–40 and amyloid-β1–42). These peptides can then re-enter the brain, as has been shown in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease137. Rapid systemic removal of amyloid-β by the liver is also mediated by LRP1 and comprises step three of the clearance process170.

In brain, amyloid-β is enzymatically degraded by neprilysin171, insulin-degrading enzyme172, tissue plasminogen activator173 and MMPs173,174 in various cell types, including endothelial cells, pericytes, astrocytes, neurons and microglia. Cellular clearance of this peptide by astrocytes and VSMCs is mediated by LRP1 and/or another lipoprotein receptor66, 175. Clearance of amyloid-β aggregates by microglia has an important role in amyloid-β-directed immunotherapy176 and reduction of the amyloid load in brain177. Passive ISF–CSF bulk flow and subsequent clearance through the CSF might contribute to 10–15% of total amyloid-β removal152, 153, 178. In the injured human brain, increasing soluble amyloid-β concentrations in the ISF correlated with improvements in neurological status, suggesting that neuronal activity might regulate extracellular amyloid-β levels179.

The role of BBB dysfunction in amyloid-β accumulation, as discussed above, underlies the contribution of vascular dysfunction to Alzheimer’s disease (see Fig. 5 for a model of vascular damage in Alzheimer’s disease). The amyloid hypothesis for the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease maintains that this peptide initiates a cascade of events leading to neuronal injury and loss and, eventually, dementia180, 181. Here, I present an alternative hypothesis — the two-hit vascular hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease — that incorporates the vascular contribution to this disease, as discussed in this Review (Box 1). This hypothesis states that primary damage to brain microcirculation (hit one) initiates a non-amyloidogenic pathway of vascular-mediated neuronal dysfunction and injury, which is mediated by BBB dysfunction and is associated with leakage and secretion of multiple neurotoxic molecules and/or diminished brain capillary flow that causes multiple focal ischaemic or hypoxic microinjuries. BBB dysfunction also leads to impairment of amyloid-β clearance, and oligaemia leads to increased amyloid-β generation. Both processes contribute to accumulation of amyloid-β species in the brain (hit two), where these peptides exert vasculotoxic and neurotoxic effects. According to the two-hit vascular hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease, tau pathology develops secondary to vascular and/or amyloid-β injury.

Figure 5 | A model of vascular damage in Alzheimer’s disease.

a | In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, small pial and intracerebral arteries develop a hypercontractile phenotype that underlies dysregulated cerebral blood flow (CBF). This phenotype is accompanied by diminished amyloid-β clearance by the vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). In the later phases of Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid deposition in the walls of intracerebral arteries leads to cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), pronounced reductions in CBF, atrophy of the VSMC layer and rupture of the vessels causing microbleeds. b | At the level of capillaries in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, blood–brain barrier (BBB) dysfunction leads to a faulty amyloid-β clearance and accumulation of neurotoxic amyloid-β oligomers in the interstitial fluid (ISF), microhaemorrhages and accumulation of toxic blood-derived molecules (that is, thrombin and fibrin), which affect synaptic and neuronal function. Hyperphosphorylated tau (p-tau) accumulates in neurons in response to hypoperfusion and/or rising amyloid-β levels. At this point, microglia begin to sense neuronal injury. In the later stages of the disease in brain capillaries, microvascular degeneration leads to increased deposition of basement membrane proteins and perivascular amyloid. The deposited proteins and amyloid obstruct capillary blood flow, resulting in failure of the efflux pumps, accumulation of metabolic waste products, changes in pH and electrolyte composition and, subsequently, synaptic and neuronal dysfunction. Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) accumulate in response to ischaemic injury and rising amyloid-β levels. Activation of microglia and astrocytes is associated with a pronounced inflammatory response. ROS, reactive oxygen species.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The cause of sporadic ALS, a fatal adult-onset motor neuron neurodegenerative disease, is not known182. In a relatively small number of patients with inherited SOD1 mutations, the disease is caused by toxic properties of mutant SOD1 (Ref. 183). Mutations in the genes encoding ataxin 2 and TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP43) that cause these proteins to aggregate have been associated with ALS182, 184. Some studies have suggested that abnormal SOD1 species accumulate in sporadic ALS185. Interestingly, studies in ALS transgenic mice expressing a mutant version of human SOD1 in neurons, and in non-neuronal cells neighbouring these neurons, have shown that deletion of this gene from neurons does not influence disease progression186, whereas deletion of this gene from microglia186 or astrocytes187 substantially increases an animal’s lifespan. According to an emerging hypothesis of ALS that is based on studies in SOD1 mutant mice, the toxicity that is derived from non-neuronal neighbouring cells, particularly microglia and astrocytes, contributes to disease progression and motor neuron degeneration186, 187, 188, 189, 190, whereas BBB dysfunction might be critical for disease initiation8, 43, 94, 95. More work is needed to determine whether this concept of disease initiation and progression may also apply to cases of sporadic ALS.

Human data support a role for angiogenic factors and vessels in the pathogenesis of ALS. For example, the presence of VEGF variations (which were identified in large meta-analysis studies) has been linked to ALS191. Angiogenin is another pro-angiogenic gene that is implicated in ALS because heterozygous missense mutations in angiogenin cause familial and sporadic ALS192. Moreover, mice with a mutation that eliminates hypoxia-responsive induction of the Vegf gene (Vegfδ/δ mice) develop late-onset motor neuron degeneration193. Spinal cord ischaemia worsens motor neuron degeneration and functional outcome in Vegfδ/δmice, whereas the absence of hypoxic induction of VEGF in mice that develop motor neuron disease from expression of ALS-linked mutant SOD1G93A results in substantially reduced survival191.

Therapeutic opportunities

Many investigators believe that primary neuronal dysfunction resulting from an intrinsic neuronal disorder is the key underlying event in human neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, most therapeutic efforts for neurodegenerative diseases have so far been directed at the development of so-called ‘single-target, single-action’ agents to target neuronal cells directly and reverse neuronal dysfunction and/or protect neurons from injurious insults. However, most preclinical and clinical studies have shown that such drugs are unable to cure or control human neurological disorders2, 181, 183, 194, 195. For example, although pathological overstimulation of glutaminergic NMDA receptors (NMDARs) has been shown to lead to neuronal injury and death in several disorders, including stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and Huntington’s disease16, NMDAR antagonists have failed to show a therapeutic benefit in the above-mentioned human neurological disorders.

Recently, my colleagues and I coined the term vasculo-neuronal-inflammatory triad195 to indicate that vascular damage, neuronal injury and/or neurodegeneration, and neuroinflammation comprise a common pathological triad that occurs in multiple neurological disorders. In line with this idea, it is conceivable that ‘multiple-target, multiple-action’ agents (that is, drugs that have more than one target and thus have more than one action) will have a better chance of controlling the complex disease mechanisms that mediate neurodegeneration than agents that have only one target (for example, neurons). According to the vasculo-neuronal-inflammatory triad model, in addition to neurons, brain endothelium, VSMCs, pericytes, astrocytes and activated microglia are all important therapeutic targets.

Here, I will briefly discuss a few therapeutic strategies based on the vasculo-neuronal-inflammatory triad model. VEGF and other angioneurins may have multiple targets, and thus multiple actions, in the CNS120. For example, preclinical studies have shown that treatment of SOD1G93A rats with intracerebroventricular VEGF196 or intramuscular administration of a VEGF-expressing lentiviral vector that is transported retrogradely to motor neurons in SOD1G93A mice197 reduced pathology and extended survival, probably by promoting angiogenesis and increasing the blood flow through the spinal cord as well as through direct neuronal protective effects of VEGF on motor neurons. On the basis of these and other studies, a phase I–II clinical trial has been initiated to evaluate the safety of intracerebroventricular infusion of VEGF in patients with ALS198. Treatment with angiogenin also slowed down disease progression in a mouse model of ALS199.

IGF1 delivery has been shown to promote amyloid-β vascular clearance and to improve learning and memory in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease200. Local intracerebral implantation of VEGF-secreting cells in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease has been shown to enhance vascular repair, reduce amyloid burden and improve learning and memory201. In contrast to VEGF, which can increase BBB permeability, TGFβ, hepatocyte growth factor and fibroblast growth factor 2 promote BBB integrity by upregulating the expression of endothelial junction proteins121 in a similar way to APC43. However, VEGF and most growth factors do not cross the BBB, so the development of delivery strategies such as Trojan horses is required for their systemic use25.

A recent experimental approach with APC provides an example of a neurovascular medicine that has been shown to favourably regulate multiple pathways in non-neuronal cells and neurons, resulting in vasculoprotection, stabilization of the BBB, neuroprotection and anti-inflammation in several acute and chronic models of the CNS disorders195 (Box 2).

The recognition of amyloid-β clearance pathways (Fig. 4), as discussed above, opens exciting new therapeutic opportunities for Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid-β clearance pathways are promising therapeutic targets for the future development of neurovascular medicines because it has been shown both in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease1 and in patients with sporadic Alzheimer’s disease149 that faulty clearance from brain and across the BBB primarily determines amyloid-β retention in brain, causing the formation of neurotoxic amyloid-β oligomers56 and the promotion of brain and cerebrovascular amyloidosis3. The targeting of clearance mechanisms might also be beneficial in other diseases; for example, the clearance of extracellular mutant SOD1 in familial ALS, the prion protein in prion disorders and α-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease might all prove beneficial. However, the clearance mechanisms for these proteins in these diseases are not yet understood.

Conclusions and perspectives

Currently, no effective disease-modifying drugs are available to treat the major neurodegenerative disorders202, 203, 204. This fact leads to a question: are we close to solving the mystery of neurodegeneration? The probable answer is yes, because the field has recently begun to recognize that, first, damage to neuronal cells is not the sole contributor to disease initiation and progression, and that, second, correcting disease pathways in vascular and glial cells may offer an array of new approaches to control neuronal degeneration that do not involve targeting neurons directly. These realizations constitute an important shift in paradigm that should bring us closer to a cure for neurodegenerative diseases. Here, I raise some issues concerning the existing models of neurodegeneration and the new neurovascular paradigm.

The discovery of genetic abnormalities and associations by linkage analysis or DNA sequencing has broadened our understanding of neurodegeneration204. However, insufficient effort has been made to link genetic findings with disease biology. Another concern for neurodegenerative research is how we should interpret findings from animal models202. Genetically engineered models of human neurodegenerative disorders in Drosophila melanogaster andCaenorhabditis elegans have been useful for dissecting basic disease mechanisms and screening compounds. However, in addition to having much simpler nervous systems, insects and avascular species do not have cerebrovascular and immune systems that are comparable to humans and, therefore, are unlikely to replicate the complex disease pathology that is found in people.

For most neurodegenerative disorders, early steps in the disease processes remain unclear, and biomarkers for these stages have yet to be identified. Thus, it is difficult to predict whether mammalian models expressing human genes and proteins that we know are implicated in the intermediate or later stages of disease pathophysiology, such as amyloid-β or tau in Alzheimer’s disease7, 181, will help us to discover therapies for the early stages of disease and for disease prevention, because the exact role of these pathological accumulations during disease onset remains uncertain. According to the two-hit vascular hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease, incorporating vascular factors that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease into current models of this disease may more faithfully replicate dementia events in humans. Alternatively, by focusing on the comorbidities and the initial cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying early neurovascular dysfunction that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, new models of dementia and neurodegeneration may be developed that do not require the genetic manipulation of amyloid-β or tau expression.

The proposed neurovascular triad model of neurodegenerative diseases challenges the traditional neurocentric view of such disorders. At the same time, this model raises a set of new important issues that require further study. For example, the molecular basis of the neurovascular link with neurodegenerative disorders is poorly understood, in terms of the adhesion molecules that keep the physical association of various cell types together, the molecular crosstalk between different cell types (including endothelial cells, pericytes and astrocytes) and how these cellular interactions influence neuronal activity. Addressing these issues promises to create new opportunities not only to better understand the molecular basis of the neurovascular link with neurodegeneration but also to develop novel neurovascular-based medicines.

The construction of a human BBB molecular atlas will be an important step towards understanding the role of the BBB and neurovascular interactions in health and disease. Achievement of this goal will require identifying new BBB transporters by using genomic and proteomic tools, and by cloning some of the transporters that are already known. Better knowledge of transporters at the human BBB will help us to better understand their potential as therapeutic targets for disease.

Development of higher-resolution imaging methods to evaluate BBB integrity, key transporters’ functions and CBF responses in the microregions of interest (for example, in the entorhinal region of the hippocampus) will help us to understand how BBB dysfunction correlates with cognitive outcomes and neurodegenerative processes in MCI, Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

The question persists: are we missing important therapeutic targets by studying the nervous system in isolation from the influence of the vascular system? The probable answer is yes. However, the current exciting and novel research that is based on the neurovascular model has already begun to change the way that we think about neurodegeneration, and will continue to provide further insights in the future, leading to the development of new neurovascular therapies.

References

  1. Zlokovic, B. V. The blood–brain barrier in health and chronic neurodegenerative disorders. Neuron 57, 178–201 (2008).

  2. Moskowitz, M. A., Lo, E. H. & Iadecola, C. The science of stroke: mechanisms in search of treatments. Neuron 67, 181–198 (2010).
    A comprehensive review describing mechanisms of ischaemic injury to the neurovascular unit.

  3. Zlokovic, B. V. Neurovascular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s neurodegeneration. Trends Neurosci. 28, 202–208 (2005).

  4. Brown, W. R. & Thore, C. R. Review: cerebral microvascular pathology in ageing and neurodegeneration. Neuropathol. Appl. Neurobiol. 37, 56–74 (2011).

  5. Wu, Z. et al. Role of the MEOX2 homeobox gene in neurovascular dysfunction in Alzheimer disease. Nature Med. 11, 959–965 (2005).
    A study demonstrating that low expression of MEOX2 in brain endothelium leads to aberrant angiogenesis and vascular regression in Alzheimer’s disease.

  6. Paul, J., Strickland, S. & Melchor, J. P. Fibrin deposition accelerates neurovascular damage and neuroinflammation in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. J. Exp. Med. 204, 1999–2008 (2007).
    A study showing BBB breakdown in models of Alzheimer’s disease.

  7. Zipser, B. D. et al. Microvascular injury and blood–brain barrier leakage in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiol. Aging 28, 977–986 (2007).

  8. Zhong, Z. et al. ALS-causing SOD1 mutants generate vascular changes prior to motor neuron degeneration. Nature Neurosci. 11, 420–422 (2008).
    A study demonstrating that BSCB defects precede motor neuron degeneration in mice that develop an ALS-like disease.

  9. Kalaria, R. N. Vascular basis for brain degeneration: faltering controls and risk factors for dementia. Nutr. Rev. 68, S74–S87 (2010).

  10. Knopman, D. S. & Roberts, R. Vascular risk factors: imaging and neuropathologic correlates. J. Alzheimers Dis. 20, 699–709 (2010).

  11. Miyazaki, K. et al. Disruption of neurovascular unit prior to motor neuron degeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. J. Neurosci. Res. 89, 718–728 (2011).

  12. Neuwelt, E. A. et al. Engaging neuroscience to advance translational research in brain barrier biology. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 12, 169–182 (2011).

  13. Guo, S. & Lo, E. H. Dysfunctional cell–cell signaling in the neurovascular unit as a paradigm for central nervous system disease.Stroke 40, S4–S7 (2009).

  14. Redzic, Z. Molecular biology of the blood–brain and the blood–cerebrospinal fluid barriers: similarities and differences. Fluids Barriers CNS 8, 3 (2011).

  15. O’Kane, R. L., Martinez-Lopez, I., DeJoseph, M. R., Vina, J. R. & Hawkins, R. A. Na+-dependent glutamate transporters (EAAT1, EAAT2, and EAAT3) of the blood–brain barrier. A mechanism for glutamate removal. J. Biol. Chem. 274, 31891–31895 (1999).

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Author affiliations

  1. Department of Physiology and Biophysics, and Center for Neurodegeneration and Regeneration at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, 1501 San Pablo Street, Los Angeles, California 90089, USA.
    Email: bzlokovi@usc.edu

 

Retromer in Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease and other neurological disorders.

Scott A. Small and Gregory A. Petsko

Nature Reviews Neuroscience  2015; 16:126-132.   http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/nrn3896

 

Retromer is a protein assembly that has a central role in endosomal trafficking, and retromer dysfunction has been linked to a growing number of neurological disorders. First linked to Alzheimer disease, retromer dysfunction causes a range of pathophysiological consequences that have been shown to contribute to the core pathological features of the disease. Genetic studies have established that retromer dysfunction is also pathogenically linked to Parkinson disease, although the biological mechanisms that mediate this link are only now being elucidated. Most recently, studies have shown that retromer is a tractable target in drug discovery for these and other disorders of the nervous system.

Yeast has proved to be an informative model organism in cell biology and has provided early insight into much of the molecular machinery that mediates the intracellular transport of proteins1,2. Indeed, the term ‘retromer’ was first introduced in a yeast study in 1998 (Ref. 3). In this study, retromer was referred to as a complex of proteins that was dedicated to transporting cargo in a retrograde direction, from the yeast endosome back to the Golgi.

By 2004, a handful of studies had identified the molecular4 and the functional5, 6 homologies of the mammalian retromer, and in 2005 retromer was linked to its first human disorder, Alzheimer disease (AD)7. At the time, the available evidence suggested that the mammalian retromer might match the simplicity of its yeast homologue. Since then, a dramatic and exponential rise in research focusing on retromer has led to more than 300 publications. These studies have revealed the complexity of the mammalian retromer and its functional diversity in endosomal transport, and have implicated retromer in a growing number of neurological disorders.

New evidence indicates that retromer is a ‘master conductor’ of endosomal sorting and trafficking8. Synaptic function heavily depends on endosomal trafficking, as it contributes to the presynaptic release of neurotransmitters and regulates receptor density in the postsynaptic membrane, a process that is crucial for neuronal plasticity9. Therefore, it is not surprising that a growing number of studies are showing that retromer has an important role in synaptic biology10, 11, 12, 13. These observations may account for why the nervous system seems particularly sensitive to genetic and other defects in retromer. In this Progress article, we briefly review the molecular organization and the functional role of retromer, before discussing studies that have linked retromer dysfunction to several neurological diseases — notably, AD and Parkinson disease (PD).

Function and organization

The endosome is considered a hub for intracellular transport. From the endosome, transmembrane proteins can be actively sorted and trafficked to various intracellular sites via distinct transport routes (Fig. 1a). Studies have shown that the mammalian retromer mediates two of the three transport routes out of endosomes. First, retromer is involved in the retrieval of cargos from endosomes and in their delivery, in a retrograde direction, to the trans-Golgi network (TGN)5,6. Retrograde transport has many cellular functions but, as we describe, it is particularly important for the normal delivery of hydrolases and proteases to the endosomal–lysosomal system. The second transport route in which retromer functions is the recycling of cargos from endosomes back to the cell surface14, 15 (Fig. 1a). It is this transport route that is particularly important for neurons, as it mediates the normal delivery of glutamate and other receptors to the plasma membrane during synaptic remodelling and plasticity10, 11, 12, 13.

Figure 1: Retromer’s endosomal transport function and molecular organization.
Retromer's endosomal transport function and molecular organization.

a | Retromer mediates two transport routes out of endosomes via tubules that extend out of endosomal membranes. The first is the retrograde pathway in which cargo is retrieved from the endosome and trafficked to the trans-Golgi network (TGN). The second is the recycling pathway in which cargo is trafficked back from the endosome to the cell surface. The degradation pathway, which is not mediated by retromer, involves the trafficking of cargo from endosomes to lysosomes for degradation. b | The retromer assembly of proteins can be organized into distinct functional modules, all of which work together as part of retromer’s transport role. The ‘cargo-recognition core’ is the central module of the retromer assembly and comprises a trimer of proteins, in which vacuolar protein sorting-associated protein 26 (VPS26) and VPS29 bind VPS35. The ‘tubulation’ module includes protein complexes that bind the cargo-recognition core and aid in the formation and stabilization of tubules that extend out of endosomes, directing the transport of cargos towards their final destinations. The ‘membrane-recruiting’ proteins recruit the cargo-recognition core to the endosomal membrane. The WAS protein family homologue (WASH) complex of proteins also binds the cargo-recognition core and is involved in endosomal ‘actin remodelling’ to form actin patches, which are important for directing cargos towards retromer’s transport pathways. Retromer cargos includes a range of receptors — which bind the cargo-recognition core — and their ligands. PtdIns3P, phosphatidylinositol-3-phosphate.

As well as extending the endosomal transport routes, recent studies have considerably expanded the number of molecular constituents and what is known about the functional organization of the mammalian retromer. Following this expansion in knowledge of the molecular diversity and organizational complexity, retromer might be best described as a multimodular protein assembly. The protein or group of proteins that make up each module can vary, but each module is defined by its distinct function, and the modules work in unison in support of retromer’s transport role.

Two modules are considered central to the retromer assembly. First and foremost is a trimeric complex that functions as a ‘cargo-recognition core’, which selects and binds to the transmembrane proteins that need to be transported and that reside in endosomal membranes5, 6. This trimeric core comprises vacuolar protein sorting-associated protein 26 (VPS26), VPS29 and VPS35; VPS35 functions as the core’s backbone to which the other two proteins bind16. VPS26 is the only member of the core that has been found to have two paralogues, VPS26a and VPS26b17,18, and studies suggest that VPS26b might be differentially expressed in the brain19, 20. Some studies suggest that VPS26a and VPS26b are functionally redundant21, whereas others suggest that they might form distinct cargo-recognition cores20, 22.

The second central module of the retromer assembly is the ‘tubulation’ module, which is made up of proteins that work together in the formation and the stabilization of tubules that extend out of endosomes and that direct the transport of cargo towards its final destination (Fig. 1b). The proteins in this module, which directly binds the cargo-recognition core, are members of the subgroup of the sorting nexin (SNX) family that are characterized by the inclusion of a carboxy-terminal BIN–amphiphysin–RVS (BAR) domain23. These members include SNX1, SNX2, SNX5 and SNX6 (Refs 24,25). As part of the tubulation module, these SNX-BAR proteins exist in different dimeric combinations, but typically SNX1 interacts with SNX5 or SNX6, and SNX2 interacts with SNX5 or SNX6 (Refs 26,27). The EPS15-homology domain 1 (EHD1) protein can be included in this module, as it is involved in stabilizing the tubules formed by the SNX-BAR proteins28.

A third module of the retromer assembly functions to recruit the cargo-recognition core to endosomal membranes and to stabilize the core once it is there (Fig. 1b). Proteins that are part of this ‘membrane-recruiting’ module include SNX3 (Ref. 29), the RAS-related protein RAB7A30, 31,32 and TBC1 domain family member 5 (TBC1D5), which is a member of the TRE2–BUB2–CDC16 (TBC) family of RAB GTPase-activating proteins (GAPs)28. In addition, the lipid phosphatidylinositol-3-phosphate (PtdIns3P), which is found on endosomal membranes, contributes to recruiting most of the retromer-related SNXs through their phox homology domains33. Interestingly, another SNX with a phox homology domain, SNX27, was recently linked to retromer and its function15, 34. SNX27 functions as an adaptor for binding to PDZ ligand-containing cargos that are destined for transport to the cell surface via the recycling pathway. Thus, according to the functional organization of the retromer assembly, SNX27 belongs to the module that engages in cargo recognition and selection.

Recent studies have identified a fourth module of the retromer assembly. The five proteins in this module — WAS protein family homologue 1 (WASH1), FAM21, strumpellin, coiled-coil domain-containing protein 53 (CCDC53) and KIAA1033 (also known as WASH complex subunit 7) — form the WASH complex and function as an ‘actin-remodelling’ module28, 35, 36 (Fig. 1b). Specifically, the WASH complex functions in the rapid polymerization of actin to create patches of actin filaments on endosomal membranes. The complex is recruited to endosomal membranes by binding VPS35 (Ref. 28), and together they divert cargo towards retromer transport pathways and away from the degradation pathway.

The cargos that are transported by retromer include the receptors that directly bind the cargo-recognition core and the ligands of these receptors that are co-transported with the receptors. The receptors that are transported by retromer that have so far been identified to be the most relevant to neurological diseases are the family of VPS10 domain-containing receptors (including sortilin-related receptor 1 (SORL1; also known as SORLA), sortilin, and SORCS1, SORCS2 and SORCS3)7; the cation-independent mannose-6-phosphate receptor (CIM6PR)6, 5; glutamate receptors10; and phagocytic receptors that mediate the clearing function of microglia37. The most disease-relevant ligand to be identified that is trafficked as retromer cargo is the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP)7, 38, 39, 40, 41, which binds SORL1 and perhaps other VPS10 domain-containing receptors42 at the endosomal membrane.

Retromer dysfunction

Guided by retromer’s established function, and on the basis of empirical evidence, there are three well-defined pathophysiological consequences of retromer dysfunction that have proven to be relevant to AD and nervous system disorders. First, retromer dysfunction can cause cargos that typically transit rapidly through the endosome to reside in the endosome for longer than normal durations, such that they can be pathogenically processed into neurotoxic fragments (for example, APP, when stalled in the endosome, is more likely to be processed into amyloid-β, which is implicated in AD43 (Fig. 2a)). Second, by reducing endosomal outflow via impairment of the recycling pathway, retromer dysfunction can lead to a reduction in the number of cell surface receptors that are important for brain health (for example, microglia phagocytic receptors37 (Fig. 2b)).

Figure 2: The pathophysiology of retromer dysfunction.
The pathophysiology of retromer dysfunction.

Retromer dysfunction has three established pathophysiological consequences. In the examples shown, the left graphic represents a cell with normal retromer function and the right graphic represents a cell with a deficit in retromer function. a | Retromer dysfunction causes increased levels of cargo to reside in endosomes. For example, in primary neurons, retromer transports the β-amyloid precursor protein (APP) out of endosomes. Accordingly, retromer dysfunction increases APP levels in endosomes, leading to accelerated APP processing, resulting in an accumulation of neurotoxic fragments of APP (namely, β-carboxy-terminal fragment (βCTF) and amyloid-β) that are pathogenic in Alzheimer disease. b | Retromer dysfunction causes decreased cargo levels at the cell surface. For example, in microglia, retromer mediates the transport of phagocytic receptors to the cell surface and retromer dysfunction results in a decrease in the delivery of these receptors. Studies suggest that this cellular phenotype might have a pathogenic role in Alzheimer disease. c | Retromer dysfunction causes decreased delivery of proteases to the endosome. Retromer is required for the normal retrograde transport of the cation-independent mannose-6-phosphate receptor (CIM6PR) from the endosome back to the trans-Golgi network (TGN). It is in the TGN that this receptor binds cathepsin D and other proteases, and transports them to the endosome, to support the normal function of the endosomal–lysosomal system. By impairing the retrograde transport of the receptor, retromer dysfunction ultimately leads to reduced delivery of cathepsin D to this system. Cathepsin D deficiency has been shown to disrupt the endosomal–lysosomal system and to trigger tau pathology either within endosomes or secondarily in the cytosol.

The third consequence (Fig. 2c) is a result of the established role that retromer has in the retrograde transport of receptors, such as CIM6PR5, 6 or sortilin44, after these receptors transport proteases from the TGN to the endosome. Once at the endosome, the proteases disengage from the receptors, are released into endosomes and migrate to lysosomes. These proteases function in the endosomal–lysosomal system to degrade proteins, protein oligomers and aggregates45. Retromer functions to transfer the ‘naked’ receptor from the endosome back to the TGN via the retrograde pathway5, 6, allowing the receptors to continue in additional rounds of protease delivery. Accordingly, by reducing the normal retrograde transport of these receptors, retromer dysfunction has been shown to reduce the proper delivery of proteases to the endosomal–lysosomal system5,6, which, as discussed below, is a pathophysiological state linked to several brain disorders.

Although requiring further validation, recent studies suggest that retromer dysfunction might be involved in two other mechanisms that have a role in neurological disease. One study suggested that retromer might be involved in trafficking the transmembrane protein autophagy-related protein 9A (ATG9A) to recycling endosomes, from where it can then be trafficked to autophagosome precursors — a trafficking step that is crucial in the formation and the function of autophagosomes46. Autophagy is an important mechanism by which neurons clear neurotoxic aggregates that accumulate in numerous neurodegenerative diseases47. A second study has suggested that retromer dysfunction might enhance the seeding and the cell-to-cell spread of intracellular neurotoxic aggregates48, which have emerged as novel pathophysiological mechanisms that are relevant to AD49, PD50 and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Alzheimer disease

Retromer was first implicated in AD in a molecular profiling study that relied on functional imaging observations in patients and animal models to guide its molecular analysis7. Collectively, neuroimaging studies confirmed that the entorhinal cortex is the region of the hippocampal circuit that is affected first in AD, even in preclinical stages, and suggested that this effect was independent of ageing (as reviewed in Ref. 51). At the same time, neuroimaging studies identified a neighbouring hippocampal region, the dentate gyrus, that is relatively unaffected in AD52. Guided by this information, a study was carried out in which the two regions of the brain were harvested post mortem from patients with AD and from healthy individuals, intentionally covering a broad range of ages. A statistical analysis was applied to the determined molecular profiles of the regions that was designed to address the following question: among the thousands of profiled molecules, which are the ones that are differentially affected in the entorhinal cortex versus the dentate gyrus, in patients versus controls, but that are not affected by age? The final results led to the determination that the brains of patients with AD are deficient in two core retromer proteins — VPS26 and VPS35 (Ref. 7).

Little was known about the receptors of the neuronal retromer, so to understand how retromer deficiency might be mechanistically linked to AD, an analysis was carried out on the molecular data set that looked for transmembrane molecules for which expression levels correlated with VPS35 expression. The top ‘hit’ was the transcript encoding the transmembrane protein SORL1 (Ref. 43). As SORL1 belongs to the family of VPS10-containing receptors and as VPS10 is the main retromer receptor in yeast3, it was postulated that SORL1 and the family of other VPS10-containing proteins (sortillin, SORCS1, SORCS2 and SORCS3) might function as retromer receptors in neurons7. In addition, SORL1 had recently been reported to bind APP53, so if SORL1 was assumed to be a receptor that is trafficked by retromer, then APP might be the cargo that is co-trafficked by retromer. This led to a model in which retromer traffics APP out of endosomes7, which are the organelles in which APP is most likely to be cleaved by βAPP-cleaving enzyme 1 (BACE1; also known as β-secretase 1)43; this is the initial enzymatic step in the pathogenic processing of APP.

Subsequent studies were required to further establish the pathogenic link between retromer and AD, and to test the proposed model. The pathogenic link was further supported by human genetic studies. First, a genetic study investigating the association between AD, the genes encoding the components of the retromer cargo-recognition core and the family of VPS10-containing receptors found that variants of SORL1 increase the risk of developing AD38. This finding was confirmed by numerous studies, including a recent large-scale AD genome-wide association study54. Other genetic studies identified AD-associated variants in genes encoding proteins that are linked to nearly all modules of the retromer assembly55, including genes encoding proteins of the retromer tubulation module (SNX1), genes encoding proteins of the retromer membrane-recruiting module (SNX3 and RAB7A) and genes encoding proteins of the retromer actin-remodelling module (KIAA1033). In addition, nearly all of the genes encoding the family of VPS10-containing retromer receptors have been found to have variants that associate with AD56. Finally, a study found that brain regions that are differentially affected in AD are deficient in PtdIns3P, which is the phospholipid required for recruiting many sorting nexins to endosomal membranes57. Thus, together with the observation that the brains of patients with AD are deficient in VPS26a and VPS35 (Refs 7,37), all modules in the retromer assembly are implicated in AD.

Studies in mice39, 58, 59, flies39 and cells in culture34, 40, 41, 60, 61 have investigated how retromer dysfunction leads to the pathogenic processing of APP. Although rare discrepancies have been observed among these studies62, when viewed in total, the most consistent findings are that retromer dysfunction causes increased pathogenic processing of APP by increasing the time that APP resides in endosomes. Moreover, these studies have confirmed that SORL1 and other VPS10-containing proteins function as APP receptors that mediate APP trafficking out of endosomes.

Retromer has unexpectedly been linked to microglial abnormalities37 — another core feature of AD — which, on the basis of recent genetic findings, seem to have an upstream role in disease pathogenesis54, 63. A recent study found that microglia harvested from the brains of individuals with AD are deficient in VPS35 and provided evidence suggesting that retromer’s recycling pathway regulates the normal delivery of various phagocytic receptors to the cell surface of microglia37, including the phagocytic receptor triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2 (TREM2) (Fig. 2b). Mutations in TREM2 have been linked to AD63, and a recent study indicates that these mutations cause a reduction in its cell surface delivery and accelerate TREM2 degradation, which suggests that the mutations are linked to a recycling defect64. While they are located at the microglial cell surface, these phagocytic receptors function in the clearance of extracellular proteins and other molecules from the extracellular space65. Taken together, these recent studies suggest that defects in the retromer’s recycling pathway can, at least in part, account for the microglial defects observed in the disease.

The microtubule-associated protein tau is the key element of neurofibrillary tangles, which are the other hallmark histological features of AD. Although a firm link between retromer dysfunction and tau toxicity remains to be established, recent insight into tau biology suggests several plausible mechanisms that are worth considering. Tau is a cytosolic protein, but nonetheless, through mechanisms that are still undetermined, it is released into the extracellular space from where it gains access to neuronal endosomes via endocytosis66, 67. In fact, recent studies suggest that the pathogenic processing of tau is triggered after it is endocytosed into neurons and while it resides in endosomes67. Of note, it still remains unknown which specific tau processing step — its phosphorylation, cleavage or aggregation — is an obligate step towards tau-related neurotoxicity. Accordingly, if defects in microglia or in other phagocytic cells reduce their capacity to clear extracellular tau, this would accelerate tau endocytosis in neurons and its pathogenic processing.

A second possibility comes from the established role retromer has in the proper delivery of cathepsin D and other proteases to the endosomal–lysosomal system via CIM6PR or sortilin (Fig. 2c). Studies in sheep, mice and flies68 have shown that cathepsin D deficiency can enhance tau toxicity and that this is mediated by a defective endosomal–lysosomal system68. Whether this mechanism leads to abnormal processing of tau within endosomes or in the cytosol via caspase activation68 remains unclear. As discussed above, retromer dysfunction will lead to a decrease in the normal delivery of cathepsin D to the endosome and will result in endosomal–lysosomal system defects. Retromer dysfunction can therefore be considered as a functional phenocopy of cathepsin D deficiency, which suggests a plausible link between retromer dysfunction and tau toxicity. Nevertheless, although these recent insights establish plausibility and support further investigation into the link between retromer and tau toxicity, whether this link exists and how it may be mediated remain open and outstanding questions.

Parkinson disease

The pathogenic link between retromer and PD is singular and straightforward: exome sequencing has identified autosomal-dominant mutations in VPS35 that cause late-onset PD69, 70, one of a handful of genetic causes of late-onset disease. However, the precise mechanism by which these mutations cause the disease is less clear.

Among a group of recent studies, all46, 48, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76 but one77 strongly suggest that these mutations cause a loss of retromer function. At the molecular level, the mutations do not seem to disrupt mutant VPS35 from interacting normally with VPS26 and VPS29, and from forming the cargo-recognition core. Rather, two studies suggest that the mutations have a restricted effect on the retromer assembly but reduce the ability of VPS35 to associate with the WASH complex46, 75. Studies disagree about the pathophysiological consequences of the mutations. Four studies suggest that the mutations affect the normal retrograde transport of CIM6PR71, 73, 75, 76 from the endosome back to the TGN (Fig. 2c). In this scenario, the normal delivery of cathepsin D to the endosomal–lysosomal system should be reduced and this has been empirically shown73. Cathepsin D has been shown to be the dominant endosomal–lysosomal protease for the normal processing of α-synuclein76, and mutations could therefore lead to abnormal α-synuclein processing and to the formation of α-synuclein aggregates, which are thought to have a key pathogenic role in PD.

A separate study suggested that the mutation might cause a mistrafficking of ATG9, and thereby, as discussed above, reduce the formation and the function of autophagosomes46. Autophagosomes have also been implicated as an intracellular site in which α-synuclein aggregates are cleared. Thus, although future studies are needed to resolve these discrepant findings (which may in fact not be mutually exclusive), these studies are generally in agreement that retromer defects will probably increase the neurotoxic levels of α-synuclein aggregates48.

Several studies in flies71, 74 and in rat neuronal cultures71 provide strong evidence that increasing retromer function by overexpressing VPS35 rescues the neurotoxic effects of the most common PD-causing mutations in leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2). Moreover, a separate study has shown that increasing retromer levels rescues the neurotoxic effect of α-synuclein aggregates in a mouse model48. These findings have immediate therapeutic implications for drugs that increase VPS35 and retromer function, as discussed in the next section, but they also offer mechanistic insight. LRRK2 mutations were found to phenocopy the transport defects caused either by theVPS35 mutations or by knocking down VPS35 (Ref. 71). Together, this and other studies78suggest that LRRK2 might have a role in retromer-dependent transport, but future studies are required to clarify this role.

Other neurological disorders

Besides AD and PD, in which a convergence of findings has established a strong pathogenic link, retromer is being implicated in an increasing number of other neurological disorders. Below, we briefly review three disorders for which the evidence of the involvement of retromer in their pathophysiology is currently the most compelling.

The first of these disorders is Down syndrome (DS), which is caused by an additional copy of chromosome 21. Given the hundreds of genes that are duplicated in DS, it has been difficult to identify which ones drive the intellectual impairments that characterize this condition. A recent elegant study provides strong evidence that a deficiency in the retromer cargo-selection protein SNX27 might be a primary driver for some of these impairments79. This study found that the brains of individuals with DS were deficient in SNX27 and that this deficiency may be caused by an extra copy of a microRNA (miRNA) encoded by human chromosome 21 (the miRNA is produced at elevated levels and thereby decreases SNX27 expression). Consistent with the known role of SNX27 in retromer function, decreased expression of this protein in mice disrupted glutamate receptor recycling in the hippocampus and led to dendritic dysfunction. Importantly, overexpression of SNX27 rescued cognitive and other defects in animal models79, which not only strengthens the causal link between retromer dysfunction and cognitive impairment in DS but also has important therapeutic implications.

Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) is another disorder linked to retromer. HSP is caused by genetic mutations that affect upper motor neurons and is characterized by progressive lower limb spasticity and weakness. Although there are numerous mutations that cause HSP, most are unified by their effects on intracellular transport80. One HSP-associated gene in particular encodes strumpellin81, which is a member of the WASH complex.

The third disorder linked to retromer is neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL). NCL is a young-onset neurodegenerative disorder that is part of a larger family of lysosomal storage diseases and is caused by mutations in one of ten identified genes — nine neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (CLN) genes and the gene encoding cathepsin D82. Besides cathepsin D, for which the link to retromer has been discussed above, CLN3 seems to function in the normal trafficking of CIM6PR83. However, the most direct link to retromer has been recently described for CLN5, which seems to function, at least in part, as a retromer membrane-recruiting protein84.

Retromer as a therapeutic target

As suggested by the first study implicating retromer in AD7, and in several subsequent studies71,85, increasing the levels of retromer’s cargo-recognition core enhances retromer’s transport function. Motivated by this observation and after a decade-long search86, we identified a novel class of ‘retromer pharmacological chaperones’ that can bind and stabilize retromer’s cargo-recognition core and increase retromer levels in neurons61.

Validating the motivating hypothesis, the chaperones were found to enhance retromer function, as shown by the increased transport of APP out of endosomes and a reduction in the accumulation of APP-derived neurotoxic fragments61. Although there are numerous other pharmacological approaches for enhancing retromer function, this success provides the proof-of-principle that retromer is a tractable therapeutic target.

As retromer functions in all cells, a general concern is whether enhancing its function will have toxic adverse effects. However, studies have found that in stark contrast to even mild retromer deficiencies, increasing retromer levels has no obvious negative consequences in yeast, neuronal cultures, flies or mice40, 48, 61, 71. This might make sense because unlike drugs that, for example, function as inhibitors, simply increasing the normal flow of transport through the endosome might not be cytotoxic.

If retromer drugs are safe and can effectively enhance retromer function in the nervous system — which are still outstanding issues — there are two general indications for considering their clinical application. One rests on the idea that these agents will only be efficacious in patients who have predetermined evidence of retromer dysfunction. The most immediate example is that of individuals with PD that is caused by LRRK2 mutations. As discussed above, several ‘preclinical’ studies in flies and neuronal cultures have already established that increasing retromer levels71, 74can reverse the neurotoxic effects of such mutations and, thus, if this approach is proven to be safe, LRRK2-linked PD might be an appropriate indication for clinical trials.

Alternatively, the pathophysiology of a disease might be such that retromer-enhancing drugs would be efficacious regardless of whether there is documented evidence of retromer dysfunction. AD illustrates this point. As reviewed above, current evidence suggests that retromer-enhancing drugs will, at the very least, decrease pathogenic processing of APP in neurons and enhance microglial function, even if there are no pre-existing defects in retromer.

More generally, histological studies comparing the entorhinal cortex of patients with sporadic AD to age-matched controls have documented that enlarged endosomes are a defining cellular abnormality in AD87, 88. Importantly, enlarged endosomes are uniformly observed in a broad range of patients with sporadic AD, which suggests that enlarged endosomes reflect an intracellular site at which molecular aetiologies converge87. In addition, because they are observed in early stages of the disease in regions of the brain without evidence of amyloid pathology87, enlarged endosomes are thought to be an upstream event. Mechanistically, the most likely cause of enlarged endosomes is either too much cargo flowing into endosomes — as occurs, for example, with apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4), which has been shown to accelerate endocytosis89, 90 — or too little cargo flowing out, as observed in retromer dysfunction40, 61 and related transport defects57. By any mechanism, retromer-enhancing drugs might correct this unifying cellular defect and might be expected to be beneficial regardless of the specific aetiology.

Conclusions

The fact that retromer defects, including those derived from bona fide genetic mutations, seem to differentially target the nervous system suggests that the nervous system is differentially dependent on retromer for its normal function. We think that this reflects the unique cellular properties of neurons and how synaptic biology heavily depends on endosomal transport and trafficking. Although plausible, future studies are required to confirm and to test the details of this hypothesis.

However, currently, it is the clinical rather than the basic neuroscience of retromer that is much better understood, with the established pathophysiological consequences of retromer dysfunction providing a mechanistic link to the disorders in which retromer has been implicated. Nevertheless, many questions remain. The two most interesting questions, which are in fact inversions of each other, relate to regional vulnerability in the nervous system. First, why does retromer dysfunction target specific neuronal populations? Second, how can retromer dysfunction cause diseases that target different regions of the nervous system? Recent evidence hints at answers to both questions, which must somehow be rooted in the functional and molecular diversity of retromer.

The type and the extent of retromer defects linked to different disorders might provide pathophysiological clues as well as reasons for differential vulnerability. As discussed, in AD there seem to be across-the-board defects in retromer, such that each module of the retromer assembly as well as multiple retromer cargos have been pathogenically implicated. By contrast, the profile of retromer defects in PD seems to be more circumscribed, involving selective disruption of the interaction between VPS35 and the WASH complex. These insights might agree with histological87, 88 and large-scale genetic studies54 that suggest that endosomal dysfunction is a unifying focal point in the cellular pathogenesis of AD. In contrast, genetics and other studies91suggest that the cellular pathobiology of PD is more distributed, implicating the endosome but other organelles as well, in particular the mitochondria.

Interestingly, studies suggest that the entorhinal cortex — a region that is differentially vulnerable to AD — has unique dendritic structure and function92, which are highly dependent on endosomal transport. We speculate that it is the unique synaptic biology of the entorhinal cortex that can account for why it might be particularly sensitive to defects in endosomal transport in general and retromer dysfunction in particular, and for why this region is the early site of disease. Future studies are required to investigate this hypothesis, as well as to understand why the substantia nigra or other regions that are differentially vulnerable to PD would be particularly sensitive to the more circumscribed defect in retromer.

Perhaps the most important observation for clinical neuroscience is the now well-established fact that increasing levels of retromer proteins enhances retromer function and has already proved capable of reversing defects associated with AD, PD and DS in either cell culture or in animal models. The relationships between protein levels and function are not always simple, but emerging pharmaceutical technologies that selectively and safely increase protein levels are now a tractable goal in drug discovery93. With the evidence mounting that retromer has a pathogenic role in two of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, we think that targeting retromer to increase its functional activity is an important goal that has strong therapeutic promise.

References

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  • Carroll, R. C., Beattie, E. C., von Zastrow, M. & Malenka, R. C. Role of AMPA receptor endocytosis in synaptic plasticity. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 2, 315324 (2001).
  • Choy, R. W.et al. Retromer mediates a discrete route of local membrane delivery to dendrites. Neuron 82, 5562 (2014).
  • Zhang, D.et al. RAB-6.2 and the retromer regulate glutamate receptor recycling through a retrograde pathway. J. Cell Biol. 196, 85101 (2012).
  • Hussain, N. K., Diering, G. H., Sole, J., Anggono, V. & Huganir, R. L. Sorting nexin 27 regulates basal and activity-dependent trafficking of AMPARs. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA111, 1184011845 (2014).
  • Loo, L. S., Tang, N., Al-Haddawi, M., Dawe, G. S. & Hong, W. A role for sorting nexin 27 in AMPA receptor trafficking. Nature Commun. 5, 3176 (2014).
  • Feinstein, T. N.et al. Retromer terminates the generation of cAMP by internalized PTH receptors. Nature Chem. Biol. 7, 278284 (2011).
  • Temkin, P.et al. SNX27 mediates retromer tubule entry and endosome-to-plasma membrane trafficking of signalling receptors. Nature Cell Biol. 13, 715721 (2011).
  • Seaman, M. N. Recycle your receptors with retromer. Trends Cell Biol. 15, 6875 (2005).
  • Kerr, M. C.et al. A novel mammalian retromer component, Vps26B. Traffic 6, 9911001(2005).
  • Collins, B. M.et al. Structure of Vps26B and mapping of its interaction with the retromer protein complex. Traffic 9, 366379 (2008).
  • Kim, E.et al. Identification of novel retromer complexes in the mouse testis. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 375, 1621 (2008).
  • Bugarcic, A.et al. Vps26A and Vps26B subunits define distinct retromer complexes. Traffic12, 17591773 (2011).

……. 93

Affiliations   

Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Ageing Brain, Departments of Neurology, Radiology, and Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York 10032, USA.

Scott A. Small

Helen and Robert Appel Alzheimer’s Disease Research Institute, Department of Neurology and Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York 10065, USA.

Gregory A. Petsko

 

See also:

Neurobiol Aging. 2011 Nov;32(11):2109.e1-14. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2011.05.025.
Altered intrinsic neuronal excitability and reduced Na+ currents in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
Brown JT, Chin J, Leiser SC, Pangalos MN, Randall AD.

Trends Neurosci. 2013 Jun;36(6):325-35. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2013.03.002.
Why size matters – balancing mitochondrial dynamics in Alzheimer’s disease.
DuBoff B, Feany M, Götz J.

Neuron. 2014 Dec 3;84(5):1023-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.10.024.
Dendritic structural degeneration is functionally linked to cellular hyperexcitability in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
Šišková Z, Justus D, Kaneko H, Friedrichs D, Henneberg N, Beutel T, Pitsch J, Schoch S, Becker A, von der Kammer H, Remy S.

 

 

Video: How can we tease out the role of other toxic insults in AD pathogenesis?

https://neuroalzheimerscommunity.nature.com/videos/3896-other-toxic-insults/download.mp4

 

 

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Liver on the chip devices with the capacity to replace animal experiments

Reported by: Irina Robu, PhD

In the recent years, there is a growing perception that animal experiments fail to predict human responses which indicates the development of other models to predict drug toxicity. The main challenge in replacing animal experiments is that the human cells have a low survival rate when they are outside the body. Researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology in Germany partnered to create a liver-on-chip device mimicking human physiology. In addition , they use nanotechnology based sensors to the living tissue to identify toxicity.

The results indicated he first discovery of a new toxicity mechanism using the newly emerging human-on-a-chip technology which indicates development of alternative models of animal testing is not far away from being a reality. The market for this technology shows a double digit annual growth rate in the last 3 years and is estimated to
grow to $17 billion by 2018.
 
Source
http://www.innovationtoronto.com/2015/08/israeli-german-partnership-aims-to-replace-animal-experiments-with-advanced-liver-on-chip-devices/

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Nanotechnology therapy for non-cancerous diseases

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

Nanotechnology in respiratory medicine

Albert Joachim Omlor1, Juliane Nguyen2, Robert Bals3 and Quoc Thai Dinh13

Respiratory Research 2015, 16:64  http://dx.doi.org:/10.1186/s12931-015-0223-5

http://respiratory-research.com/content/16/1/64

Like two sides of the same coin, nanotechnology can be both boon and bane for respiratory medicine. Nanomaterials open new ways in diagnostics and treatment of lung diseases. Nanoparticle based drug delivery systems can help against diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, and pulmonary fibrosis. Moreover, nanoparticles can be loaded with DNA and act as vectors for gene therapy in diseases like cystic fibrosis. Even lung diagnostics with computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) profits from new nanoparticle based contrast agents. However, the risks of nanotechnology also have to be taken into consideration as engineered nanomaterials resemble natural fine dusts and fibers, which are known to be harmful for the respiratory system in many cases. Recent studies have shown that nanoparticles in the respiratory tract can influence the immune system, can create oxidative stress and even cause genotoxicity. Another important aspect to assess the safety of nanotechnology based products is the absorption of nanoparticles. It was demonstrated that the amount of pulmonary nanoparticle uptake not only depends on physical and chemical nanoparticle characteristics but also on the health status of the organism. The huge diversity in nanotechnology could revolutionize medicine but makes safety assessment a challenging task.

Keywords: Nanoparticles; Lung; Airways; Nanotoxicology; Biodistribution; Nanomedicine

Over the past years nanomaterials have found their way into more and more areas of life. Examples are new coatings and pigments, electronic devices as well as cosmetic products like sunscreens and toothpastes. On top of that, much effort is done to adopt nanotechnology for the treatment of human diseases. The term “Nano” refers to structures in the range of 1 to 100 nm. In contrast to nanoparticles, which have to measure between 1 and 100 nm in all dimensions, nanomaterials may consist of elements bigger than 100 nm but need to be structured in the nanoscale and exhibit characteristic features associated with their nanostructure [1]. In this context, the International Organization for Standardization defined the term nano-object as a material with one, two or three external dimensions in the nanoscale [2] (Fig. 1). Nanomaterials have an extremely high surface area to volume ratio. Therefore, some of them are very reactive or catalytically active. Moreover, in the nanoworld quantum effects become visible and lead to some of the unique properties of nanoparticles. Like viruses and cellular structures, some nanoparticles are able to self-assemble to more complex structures [3]. This makes them interesting candidates for novel drugs. On the other hand it is necessary to redefine toxicology because of nanotechnology. Unlike classical toxicology, where dose and composition matter, in nanotoxicology the focus has to be set on properties like morphology, size, size distribution, surface charge, and agglomeration state as well. Nanotechnology is important for respiratory medicine for several reasons. Firstly, it offers new approaches to treat diseases of the respiratory tract. However, as nanotechnology usage in consumer products, cosmetics, and medicine is continuously increasing, it is also pivotal to understand potentially adverse effects of nanomaterials on the respiratory system. Additionally, studying respiratory effects of manufactured nanomaterials helps to understand the impact of combustion exhaust and ultra-fine dusts on human health. On top of that, the lung is probably the most important gateway of nanoparticles to the human organism. For the assessment of safety in nanotechnology it is therefore also important to elucidate which nanoparticle properties determine pulmonary resorption and biodistribution (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1. Nano-Objects can be divided into nanoparticles, nanofibres and nanoplates depending on the number of external dimensions in the nanoscale

Nano-Objects can be divided into nanoparticles, nanofibres and nanoplates

Nano-Objects can be divided into nanoparticles, nanofibres and nanoplates

http://www.respiratory-research.com/content/figures/s12931-015-0223-5-1.gif

Fig. 2. The increasing use of nanotechnology affects respiratory medicine in three main areas. Firstly, nanotechnology enables more sophisticated options in therapy and diagnostics. Secondly, the use of nanomaterials can cause toxic effects in the respiratory system. Health risks associated with the use of nanomaterials are not fully understood and merit further investigation. Moreover, it will be essential to understand the effects of inhaled nanoparticles on extrapulmonary organs

nanotechnology affects respiratory medicine in three main areas

nanotechnology affects respiratory medicine in three main areas

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Applications of nanotechnology in therapeutics and diagnostics

Although clinical application of nanotechnology in therapeutics and diagnostics is still rare, there are multiple promising candidates for future use in the field of respiratory medicine.

Drug delivery

Nanoparticles can act as vessels for drugs because they are small enough to reach almost any region of the human organism. Drugs can be bound chemically to the nanoparticles by a multitude of different linker molecules or by encapsulation. This allows better control of toxicokinetics. However, the main advantage is the capability of targeted drug delivery. The targeting can be active or passive. In case of tumor diseases, the leaky and immature vasculature of fast growing tumors can be taken advantage of in order to achieve passive targeting of chemotherapeutic loaded nanoparticles. This is called the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect [4]. The first generation nano drug delivery systems rely entirely on the EPR effect. One example is Genoxol-PM, a polymeric paclitaxel loaded poly(lactic acid)-block-poly(ethylene glycol) micelle-formulation [5]. This nanocarrier has recently been tested in a phase II trial in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). 43 patients were treated with four 3-week cycles of Genexol-PM at 230 mg/m2 on day 1 combined with gemcitabine 1000 mg/m2 on day 1 and day 8. With a response rate of 46.5 %, the therapy showed favorable antitumor activity. Moreover, emetogenicity was low. However, frequent grade 3/4 adverse events like neutropenia and pneumonia were observed [6]. The second generation nanoparticle drug delivery systems possess targeting ligands. These can be antibodies, aptamers, small molecules and proteins (Fig. 3). The attached ligands actively guide the nanoparticles and therefore the drugs to the tumor cells. Tumor specific monoclonal antibodies are already widely used in cancer therapy. Those antibodies can be attached to nanoparticles for active targeting. In a recent study polyglycolic acid nanoparticles, that were conjugated with cetuximab antibodies for targeting and loaded with the drug paclitaxel palmitate, were administered intravenously to mice with A549-luc-C8 lung tumors. The survival rate of these mice increased significantly compared to the control group [7]. Another approach involves aptamers as targeting agents. Aptamers are synthetic oligonucleotides that are capable of binding specific target structures. Their small size, their simple synthesis, and their lack of immunogenicity make them promising ligands for nanoparticles. Moreover, small molecules such as folate can be used for targeting tumor cells that express a high density of folate receptors. In addition, tumors often overexpress receptors for several proteins. Proteins like transferrin therefore are common targeting ligands [8]. These second generation nanocarriers are already used clinically against lung cancer with substances like Aurimmune Cyt-6091 and Bind-014. Aurimmune Cyt-6091 is a drug delivery system based on gold nanoparticles functionalized with polyethylene glycol (PEG) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). It has been used against adenocarcinoma of the lung in a phase I clinical trial. The TNF-α serves both as targeting and therapeutic agent in this case [9]. A phase II clinical trial for non-small cell lung cancer patients has been planned [10]. The nano drug delivery system Bind-014 is currently tested in a phase II clinical trial as second-line therapy for patients with non-small cell lung cancer [11]. Bind-014 nanoparticles consist of a polylactic acid (PLA) core, in which the anti-tumor drug docetaxel is physically entrapped. The particles are surface-decorated with PEG to reduce elimination from the immune system and contain ligands against prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) for targeting. PSMA is expressed in prostate cancer cells and in the neovasculature of nonprostate solid tumors, such as NSCLC [12]. Preliminary data demonstrates, that Bind-014 is clinically active and well tolerated. It also showed promising effects on patients with KRAS mutations, where ordinary anti-tumor agents usually fail. Additionally, adverse effects like anemia, neutropenia and neuropathy were significantly reduced compared to solvent based docetaxel [13].

Four different strategies for active targeting of nanoparticle based drug delivery systems

Four different strategies for active targeting of nanoparticle based drug delivery systems

Fig. 3. Four different strategies for active targeting of nanoparticle based drug delivery systems are shown. The nanoparticles can be conjugated with tumor specific antibodies or aptamers. Additionally, small molecules, such as folate, as well as proteins, such as transferrin, can be used for targeting receptors that are overexpressed on tumors

http://www.respiratory-research.com/content/figures/s12931-015-0223-5-3.jpg

Nanoparticle based drug delivery also offers potential in other fields of respiratory medicine. In experiments with tuberculosis infected guinea pigs, it was demonstrated that inhaled alginate nanoparticles encapsulating isoniazid, rifampicin, and pyrazinamide showed better bioavailability and higher efficiency than oral drug medication [14]. Similar results were presented by Pandey et al. with the three antitubercular drugs encapsulated in poly (DL-lactide-co-glycolide) nanoparticles[15]. Moreover, another study demonstrated that pirfenidone loaded nanoparticles have higher anti-fibrotic efficacy in the treatment of mice with bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis than dissolved pirfenidone [16].

Hyperthermia

Nanoparticle induced hyperthermia can be used to locally destroy tumor cells. Heat generation is usually achieved by two approaches, magnetic and photothermal hyperthermia. In magnetic hyperthermia, an extracorporeal coil creates an alternating magnetic field that heats magnetic nanoparticles inside a tumor. This increases the temperature in the tumor without affecting healthy tissue. A recent study assessed the effect of inhalable superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles in a mouse model of NSCLC. Compared to the non-targeted nanoparticles, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) targeted nanoparticles showed significantly more effective tumor shrinkage after magnetic hyperthermia treatment [17]. The other approach, photothermal therapy uses laser radiation in the visible or near infrared spectrum and photosensitizing nanoparticles such as gold or graphene. A commercial product called auroshell is available for tumor therapy. Auroshell nanoparticles consist of a silica core surrounded by a thin layer of gold. The gold nanoshells are administered intravenously and accumulate in the tumor due to the EPR effect. Upon exposure of the tumor to a near infrared laser, the laser energy is efficiently converted to heat by the gold nanoshells [18]. This therapy, which is called AuroLase, is currently undergoing clinical trial in patients with primary and/or metastatic lung tumors [19] (Fig. 4).

Two different approaches of nanoparticle based hyperthermia therapy

Two different approaches of nanoparticle based hyperthermia therapy

Fig. 4. Two different approaches of nanoparticle based hyperthermia therapy are shown. a In magnetic hyperthermia, magnetic nanoparticles (MNP) are applied intravenously and accumulate inside the tumor. When an oscillating magnetic field is created by an extracorporeal coil the magnetic nanoparticles produce heat inside the tumor. b In photothermal hyperthermia, gold nanoshells (GNS) or similar photosensitizing nanoparticles are applied intravenously and accumulate inside the tumor. Upon exposure of the tumor to near infrared (NIR) laser radiation, the gold nanoshells convert the laser light into heat

http://www.respiratory-research.com/content/figures/s12931-015-0223-5-4.gif

Gene therapy

Like viruses, nanoparticles can be used as vectors for genes. But in contrast to viruses, they are less immunogenic and have higher DNA transport capacity. In a study, DNA loaded polyethylenimine nanoparticles were used in order to treat lipopolysaccharide induced acute lung injury in mice. After intravenous injection of the nanoparticles, the beta2-Adrenic Receptor genes in the nanoparticles led to a short lived transgene expression in alveolar epithelia cells. As a result the 5-day survival rate improved from 28 % to 64 %. The severity of the symptoms measured by alveolar fluid clearance, lung water content, histopathology, bronchioalveolar lavage cellularity, protein concentration, and inflammatory cytokines was also significantly attenuated [20]. DNA loaded nanoparticles are also promising candidates in the treatment of cystic fibrosis. It was shown in a clinical trial that nasal application of DNA nanoparticles is safe and evidently leads to vector gene transfer [21]. One major problem in this context is to overcome the mucus barrier. In a recent study, it was demonstrated that densely PEG-coated DNA nanoparticles can rapidly penetrate extracorporeal human cystic fibrosis and extracorporeal mouse airway mucus. In addition, those particles exhibited better gene transfer after intranasal administration to mice than conventional carriers [22].

Diagnostics

Nanoparticles have the potential to improve pulmonary x-ray diagnostics. Folic acid-modified dendrimer-entrapped gold nanoparticles were utilized as imaging probes for targeted CT imaging. In in-vitro and in-vivo tests, the nanoparticles were trapped in the lysosomes of folic acid receptor expressing lung adenocarcinoma cells (SPC-A1). It was possible to detect the tumor cells by micro-CT imaging after nanoparticle uptake. In addition, it was also shown that the particles possess good biocompatibility, with no impact on cell morphology, viability, cell cycle, and apoptosis [23]. Nanoparticles can also be used to enhance MR diagnostics of lung tissue. In experiments with intratracheal administration of Gadolinium-DOTA nanoparticles in mice, signal enhancements in several organs including the lung were measured with ultrashort-echo-time-proton-MRI. The signal change over time in the different organs demonstrated the passage of the nanoparticles from the lung to the blood, then to the kidneys, and finally to the bladder [24].

Toxicological aspects of nanomaterials

Toxic effects of nanoparticles are a major concern in pulmonary medicine. Especially ultrafine particles of low soluble, low toxic materials like titanium dioxide, carbon black, and polystyrene are overall more toxic and inflammatory than fine particles of the same material. This applies to both synthesized nanoparticles and natural dusts [25]. For nano related toxicity multiple mechanisms seem to be important. In the following, the interaction with the immune system, the creation of oxidative stress, and toxic effects on the genome are taken a closer look at. In order to correlate toxic effects with nanoparticle properties, it is necessary to thoroughly characterize the selected nanoparticles prior to administration.

Nanoparticle characterization

The most commonly used methods to characterize nanoparticles for toxicology studies are transmission electron microscopy (TEM) for size, morphology, and agglomeration, dynamic light scattering (DLS) for the size distribution of the particles, zeta potential measurement for nanoparticle surface charge, and x-ray diffraction (XRD) for the particles’ crystal structure. In some cases such as gold and silver nanoparticles, UV-vis spectroscopy can be used to determine size and size distribution due to a special size dependent optical activity [26]. Ideally, nanoparticle characterization is repeated after administration as changes of the nanoparticles during the application process are possible. In in-vitro experiments, nanoparticles are usually applied by mixing with cell culture medium. The dissolved components of the medium, especially the ions, lead to agglomeration and precipitation of many nanoparticles, causing significant changes in their physicochemical properties. Similar effects are to be expected when nanoparticles come into contact with surfactant or other biological fluids. It was shown, that some nanoparticles tend to form protein coronae in biological systems [27].

Effects on immune system and inflammation

Many nanoparticles possess properties that give them the potential to influence the immune system. In this context, nanoparticles’ ability to penetrate cellular boundaries, to escape phagocytation by macrophages, to act as haptens, and even to disturb the Th1/Th2 balance might be essential [28]. For carbon black nanoparticles, a recent study investigated the effects of inhalative exposure on mice with bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. The analysis of histology as well as cytokine expression suggested that the nanoparticles triggered an inhalation exacerbated lung inflammation. The author concluded that especially for people with pulmonary preconditions inhalation of nanoparticles can lead to serious health problems [29]. In this context, another study found out that PEGylated cationic shell-cross-linked knedel-like (cSCK) nanoparticles produced significantly less airway inflammation than non-PEGylated ones. This was explained by a change in endocytosis. In contrast to the clathrin-dependent endocytosis of non-PEGylated particles, the PEGylated cSCK nanoparticles showed a clathrin-independent route [30]. On the other hand, some nanomaterials exhibit impressive immune modulating activity. As an example, [Gd@C82(OH)22]n, a fullerene derivate with a gadolinium atom inside showed anticancer activity without being cytotoxic (Fig. 5). In vitro studies demonstrated that [Gd@C82(OH)22]n activated dendritic cells (DCs) and even induced phenotypic maturation of those cells. Moreover, the [Gd@C82(OH)22]n treated DCs also stimulated allogenic T cells in a Th1 characteristic. The effect of [Gd@C82(OH)22]n was comparable, probably even stronger than the effect of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) on DCs. The study also verified that the nanoparticles were free of LPS contamination. In-vivo experiments on ovalbumin (OVA) immunized mice showed enhanced immune responses comparable to the adjuvant effect of Alum on OVA mice. However, whereas Alum lead to a Th2 response pattern with IL-4, IL-5 and IL-10 upregulation, [Gd@C82(OH)22]n caused a Th1 pattern with upregulation of IFNγ [31]. Similar results were demonstrated in another study using a murine asthma model. OVA sensitized mice that were additionally treated with the nanomaterial graphene oxide during allergen sensitization had stronger airway remodeling and hyperresponsiveness than mice that have only been treated with OVA. The graphene oxide lead to a downregulation of Th2 dependent markers such as IL-4, IL-5, IL-13 IgE and IgG1 but increased Th1-associated IgG2a. Moreover, the graphene oxide increased the macrophage production of mammalian chinitases, chitinase-3-like protein 1 (CHI3L1), and AMCase, which could be the reason for the overall augmentation in airway remodeling and hyperresponsiveness [32]. However, this kind of immune modulation can also be utilized for therapeutic purposes. In a recent study a nanoparticle-based vaccine has been used to treat dust mite allergies in mice. The immune-modulating carriers were generated by loading dust mite allergen Der p2 and the potent Th1 adjuvant unmethylated cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) into biodegradable poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) polymer particles. Mice treated with those nanoparticles showed significantly lower airway hyperresponsiveness as well as lower IgE antibody levels after a 10 day intranasal Der p2 instillation compared to the control group. The authors conclude that this biodegradable nanoparticle-based vaccination strategy has significant potential for treating HDM allergies [33].

Gd@C82(OH)22 consists of a gadolinium atom (green) inside a 2 nm cage of carbon atoms (grey)

Gd@C82(OH)22 consists of a gadolinium atom (green) inside a 2 nm cage of carbon atoms (grey)

Fig. 5. Gd@C82(OH)22 consists of a gadolinium atom (green) inside a 2 nm cage of carbon atoms (grey). The hydroxyl groups (red) outside the cage are responsible for water solubility. In water the molecule forms aggregates [Gd@C82(OH)22]n with average size of 25 nm

http://www.respiratory-research.com/content/figures/s12931-015-0223-5-5.jpg

Oxidative stress and catalysis

Oxidative stress is often brought in context with nanotoxicology. It can be measured directly with dichlorofluorecein or indirectly by the upregulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) eliminating enzymes like superoxide dismutase [34]. Another approach involves tests whether the nanoparticle dependent toxicity can be reduced by the application of an antioxidant. Widely used semiconductor materials such as lead sulfide nanoparticles may have the potential to generate oxidative stress in the lung. A recent study tested the toxicity of intratracheally applied 30 nm and 60 nm lead sulfide nanoparticles on rats. Oxidative damage was evaluated based on superoxide dismutase, total antioxidant capacity, and concentration of malondialdehyde. In addition to inflammatory responses, both 30 nm and 60 nm groups showed increased oxidative damage compared to control groups. The effect was significantly stronger for the 30 nm lead sulfide compared to the 60 nm nanoparticles [35]. Another nanomaterial which is associated with oxidative stress is nanosized titanium dioxide. Li et al. induced pulmonary injury in mice by daily intranasal instillation of suspended 294 nm TiO2 nanoparticles for 90 days, demonstrating that the rate of reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation increased with increasing TiO2 doses. Moreover lipid, protein and DNA peroxidation products were identified in elevated doses, which suggests that ROS dependent lung damage was significant in the nanoparticle treated animals [36]. Furthermore, in vitro tests on BEAS-2B and A549 lung cell lines demonstrated that the commonly used nanoparticles ZnO and Fe2O3 are very different in terms of creating oxidative stress. The Fe2O3nanoparticles with an average diameter of 39 nm were distributed in the cytoplasm, whereas the 63 nm ZnO nanoparticles were trapped in organelles such as the endosome. In contrast to the Fe2O3 nanoparticles the ZnO nanoparticles caused reactive oxygen species production as well as cell cycle arrest, cell apoptosis, mitochondrial dysfunction and glucose metabolism perturbation[37] (Table 1).

Table 1. Oxidative stress induction in respiratory tissue by different nanoparticles

Genotoxicity

Another important type of toxicity caused by nanoparticles is genotoxicity. A common method to quantify genotoxicity is the comet assay, which uses electrophoresis to detect DNA strand breaks. This assay was used in a recent study to check whether intratracheal instilled fullerene C60nanoparticles induced DNA damage in male rats. However, despite inflammatory responses and hemorrhages in the alveoli of the C60 treated rats, there was no significant increase in fractured DNA in their lung cells. Therefore, it was concluded that even at inflammation inducing doses, fullerene C60 nanoparticles have no potential for DNA damage in the lung cells of rats [38]. Similarly, another study demonstrated that intratracheal instillation of anatase TiO2 nanoparticles on rats did not result in genotoxicity. None of the TiO2 groups showed an increase in fractured DNA while the positive control with ethyl methanesulfonate exhibited significant increases [39]. In contrast to those results, Kyjovska ZO et al. found that even in low doses, where no inflammation occurs, Printex 90 carbon black nanoparticles induce genotoxicity in mice. There was no inflammation, cell damage and acute phase response, which means that the increased DNA strand breaks are related to direct DNA damage caused by the nanoparticles [40]. On the other hand, a recent study suggests that CeO2 nanoparticles may be even used as antioxidant and anti-genotoxic agents in the lung. After treatment with the oxidative stress-inducing agent KBrO3, BEAS-2B cells pretreated with the CeO2 nanoparticles showed significantly less intracellular ROS as well as a reduction in DNA damage compared to non-pretreated cells [41].

Biodistribution

Nanoparticle detection

Research on the biodistribution of nanoparticles requires tracking of the applied nanoparticles in the test animal. Conventional light microscopy is not able to detect nanoparticles because of Abbe’s law. Therefore, electron microscopic imaging is often required. However, light microscopy can be used to describe the nanoparticle induced changes in the cell morphology without being able to see the nanoparticles themselves. Additionally, nanoparticles can be indirectly made detectable in light microscopy by a method called autometallography. This is a silver staining that can be used to increase the size of several types of nanoparticles like gold, silver, and some metal sulfides and selenides in the histological section [42]. This technique was used to detect silver nanoparticles in the olfactory bulb and lateral brain ventricles of mice that had been intranasally treated with 25 nm silver nanoparticles [43].

Particle deposition and resorption in the respiratory tract

Most research about biodistribution of nanoparticles in organisms focuses on intravenous injection. However, nanoparticles were shown to be able to pass the blood air barrier of the lung. Whether or not nanoparticles can travel through the lung into the body seems to be size dependent. This was evaluated by injecting neutron activated radioactive gold nanoparticles of 1.4 nm and 18 nm intratracheally to rats. The bigger nanoparticles almost completely retained in the lung while significant amounts of the smaller 1.4 nm particles were found in blood, liver, skin and carcass 24 h after instillation [44]. Choi H. S. et al. applied nanoparticles of different size and charge to mice. The nanoparticles were tracked in different organs through fluorescence labeling. It was demonstrated that nanoparticles rapidly translocated to the mediastinal lymph nodes if they possess a hydrodynamic diameter of 34 nm or less and a neutral or anionic surface. Bigger and positively charged nanoparticles exhibited no significant uptake [45] (Fig. 6). In addition to physical parameters of the applied nanoparticles the health status of the exposed organism also seems to play an important role. A recent study showed that the distribution of oropharyngeal instilled 40 nm gold nanoparticles is influenced by additional LPS treatment. The gold content of organs was measured with inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy. BALB/C mice that had been oropharyngeal treated with LPS 24 h prior to the nanoparticle administration exhibited less gold content in their lungs than untreated mice. In both groups gold was detected in different organs. High concentrations were found in heart and thymus in the non LPS group, while the LPS treated mice accumulated most of the gold in the spleen. The author concluded that nanoparticle uptake may depend on medical preconditions [46].

Fig. 6. Pulmonary uptake of nanoparticles depends on size and surface charge. Positively charged nanoparticles and nanoparticles that are bigger than 34 nm cannot pass the epithelial barrier of the lung. Only small and not positively charged nanoparticles can translocate from the lung over blood and lymph system to the organism

Pulmonary uptake of nanoparticles depends on size and surface charge

Pulmonary uptake of nanoparticles depends on size and surface charge

http://www.respiratory-research.com/content/figures/s12931-015-0223-5-6.jpg

Conclusions

Over the last decade, major breakthroughs in nanotechnology have been achieved. It is only a matter of time before new nano based drugs reach respiratory medicine. Especially the fields of targeted drug delivery, gene therapy, and hyperthermia offer great potential for modern drugs. On the other hand the increased use of nanomaterials in all fields of life also bears the risk of exposure through inhalation. It is therefore essential to understand pulmonary toxicology of nanomaterials in all its facets. However, it is still very unclear why the toxic effects of nanoparticles in the respiratory tract are so inhomogeneous and not well predictable. In this context, not only local reactions of lung and airways but also nanoparticle uptake and distribution in the organism are important factors and therefore fields of current research. As only few nanoparticle compositions have been tested, it is questionable whether those results can be easily adapted to other nanoparticles. Because of the continuously increasing diversity of engineered nanoparticles, toxicology can hardly keep pace with the safety assessment of future products. Therefore, more attention should be set on this wide field of research.

Abbreviations

CHI3L1: Chitinase-3-like protein 1

cSCK: Cationic shell-cross-linked knedel-like

CT: Computer tompgraphy

DC: Dendritic cell

DLS: Dynamic light scattering

EGFR: Epidermal growth factor receptor

EPR: Enhanced permeability and retention

LPS: Lipopolysaccharide

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging

NSCLC: Non-small-cell lung carcinoma

OVA: Ovalbumin

PEG: Polyethylene glycol

PLA: Polylactic acid

PLGA: Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid)

PSMA: Prostate-specific membrane antigen

ROS: Reactive oxygen species

TEM: Transmission electron microscopy

TNF-α: Tumor necrosis factor alpha

XRD: X-ray diffraction

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Pulmonary applications and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles.

Because of their unique physicochemical properties, engineered nanoparticles have the potential to significantly impact respiratory research and medicine by means of improving imaging capability and drug delivery, among other applications. These same properties, however, present potential safety concerns, and there is accumulating evidence to suggest that nanoparticles may exert adverse effects on pulmonary structure and function. The respiratory system is susceptible to injury resulting from inhalation of gases, aerosols, and particles, and also from systemic delivery of drugs, chemicals, and other compounds to the lungs via direct cardiac output to the pulmonary arteries. As such, it is a prime target for the possible toxic effects of engineered nanoparticles. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the potential usefulness of nanoparticles and nanotechnology in respiratory research and medicine and to highlight important issues and recent data pertaining to nanoparticle-related pulmonary toxicity.

PMID:
18641236
[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2536798

Free PMC Article

The possibility of nanotechnology dramatically improving the health and quality of life of people throughout the world holds great promise. Predictions of beneficial effects of nanotechnology in numerous industrial, consumer, and medical applications have been promising. By no means an exhaustive list, these applications include those that may lead to more efficient water purification, stronger and lighter building materials, increased computing power and speed, improved generation and conservation of energy, and new tools for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The optimistic outlook for a future improved by nanotechnology must be tempered, however, by the realization that relatively little is known about the potential adverse effects of nanomaterials on human health and the environment.

The definition of a nanoparticle is generally considered to be a particle with at least one dimension of 100 nm or less. As a result of their small size and unique physicochemical properties, the toxicological profiles of nanoparticles may differ considerably from those of larger particles composed of the same materials (15, 98). Furthermore, nanoparticles of different materials (e.g., gold, silica, titanium, carbon nanotubes, quantum dots) are not expected to interact with and affect biological systems in a similar fashion. As a result, it seems unlikely that the toxic potential and/or mechanisms of nanoparticles can be predicted or explained by any single unifying concept.

The respiratory system represents a unique target for the potential toxicity of nanoparticles due to the fact that in addition to being the portal of entry for inhaled particles, it also receives the entire cardiac output. As such, there is potential for exposure of the lungs to nanoparticles that are introduced to the body via the act of breathing and by any other exposure route that may result in systemic distribution, including dermal and gastrointestinal absorption and direct injection. Interest in the respiratory system as a target for the potential effects, both beneficial and adverse, of nanoparticles is reflected by the steady increase in the number of scientific publications on these subjects during the past decade (Fig. 1).

publications related to the pulmonary toxicity and applications of engineered nanoparticles

publications related to the pulmonary toxicity and applications of engineered nanoparticles

Scientific publications related to the pulmonary toxicity and applications of engineered nanoparticles. The number of articles published in each of the past 10 years was identified by searching the PubMed database

he purpose of this article is to complement and expand on previous reviews of the pulmonary effects of nanoparticles (11, 14, 34, 35) by providing an overview of potential applications of nanotechnology in pulmonary research and in diagnosis and treatment of disease. In addition, recent advances regarding the potential pulmonary toxicity of nanoparticles as assessed in human, experimental animal, and in vitro studies are discussed. For the purposes of this article, only intentionally engineered nanoparticles are considered; unintentionally generated (e.g., via combustion engines, grilling, welding) and naturally occurring nanoparticles (e.g., via forest fires or volcanic eruptions) are not included in this discussion.

NANOPARTICLES AND THE LUNG

There are myriad nanoparticles to which the respiratory system may be exposed.

There is the potential for the respiratory system to be exposed to a seemingly countless number of unique nanoparticles, essentially none of which has been sufficiently examined for potential toxicity at this time. A substantial number of nanoparticles are already present in the marketplace in consumer products such as sunscreens, cosmetics, and car wax, and many more are sure to follow (a comprehensive list is maintained and updated by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/nano). Although the toxicity of the majority of nanoparticles may prove to be minimal, the fact that there is any potential for adverse effects to result from exposure suggests that prudence is warranted.

Various types of nanoparticles exist including those that are carbon-based (e.g., nanotubes, nanowires, fullerenes) and metal-based (e.g., gold, silver, quantum dots, metal oxides such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) and those that are arguably more biological in nature (e.g., liposomes and viruses designed for gene or drug delivery). To demonstrate the complexity of the situation, it is worthwhile to consider the case of carbon nanotubes as an example. Carbon nanotubes can be: 1) produced and/or cleaned using one of several different methods; 2) produced using one of several different metal catalysts; 3) single- or multi-walled; 4) of various lengths; and 5) subjected to numerous surface modifications. The result of these permutations is that a vast number of unique carbon nanotubes can be derived, all of which fall under one broad category, namely the carbon nanotube. Dividing these into single-walled and multi-walled forms reduces the ambiguity only so much, and we are still left with potentially thousands of each type. Furthermore, as has been demonstrated in recent in vitro experiments (37), the potential for nanotube agglomeration or for adhesion of nanotubes to biological molecules and the resultant alteration of their reactivity must be considered. Needless to say, the variations in nanoparticle form and functionality, not only for carbon nanotubes but also for nanoparticles in general, present significant challenges in the assessment of their potential usefulness and toxicity.

Nanoparticle accumulation within the lung.

Nanoparticles may reach the lung via inhalation or systemic delivery and do so by incidental/accidental or intentional means. Intentional pulmonary administration is being examined as a means of nanoparticle delivery for imaging and therapeutic purposes and is discussed separately below. Incidental or accidental inhalation exposure to nanoparticles can be envisioned most likely to occur as a result of exposure to occupational aerosols during the production or packaging of nanoparticles or nanostructured materials (89). In addition to pulmonary effects resulting from such exposures, translocation and subsequent systemic exposure and accumulation are also possible and are being investigated. It should be noted that nanoparticles naturally tend to agglomerate into larger particles that can be microns in size, thereby reducing the likelihood of free nanoparticles being respired. However, surface modifications designed to limit particle-particle interactions and protein binding may reduce the tendency for nanoparticle agglomeration and increase the potential for inhalation and deposition within the lungs (131).

Incidental pulmonary exposure as a result of systemic delivery is likely inherent for any nanoparticle that is injected or that might be absorbed following dermal application or ingestion. Although no published human data pertaining to pulmonary accumulation of nanoparticles following systemic exposure were identified, several animal studies have demonstrated pulmonary accumulation of nanoparticles (or of drug-conjugated nanoparticles) by means of determining their quantity in total lung homogenate preparations following their ingestion or intravenous or subcutaneous injection (43, 71, 109, 138, 142, 155). None of these studies investigated whether systemically administered nanoparticles traversed the blood-air barrier to gain access to the interstitium or lung epithelium; however, this is not necessarily a requirement for beneficial (or detrimental) effects to ensue. Although the levels and duration of accumulation appear to vary for the different nanoparticles examined, these data highlight the potential for exposure of the lungs to nanoparticles via the systemic route.

PULMONARY APPLICATIONS OF NANOPARTICLES

Imaging and diagnostic applications.

Many improvements in imaging capabilities that will benefit basic and clinical pulmonary research and disease diagnosis can be envisioned through the application of nanotechnology. Advances that include the delivery of nanoparticle imaging agents to specific cells or tissues of interest, the development of nanoprobes for molecular imaging of disease pathways, and the development of better contrast agents are forthcoming (21, 22, 115). Quantum dots are one type of nanoparticle that is proving to be particularly useful for imaging and diagnostic purposes. These semiconductor nanocrystals have broad absorption spectra and narrow emission spectra, and as their fluorescence is dependent on their chemical composition and size, multiple quantum dots (each with a unique color emission) can be detected simultaneously. Moreover, their relatively large surface area provides the opportunity for attachment of peptides or antibodies that precisely target cell types or tissues for imaging, thereby increasing specificity and decreasing background. In this regard, Akerman et al. (2) demonstrated that quantum dots coated with a peptide that binds to membrane dipeptidase on pulmonary endothelial cells were detected in the lung but not in brain or kidney 5 min after intravenous administration in BALB/c mice. Furthermore, in a study using quantum dots conjugated to monoclonal antibodies, rapid and specific detection of respiratory syncytial virus infection was demonstrated in vitro and in the lungs of BALB/c mice in vivo (137). Quantum dots have also been used to study tumor cell extravasation into lung tissue in C57BL/6 mice (140), highlighting the utility of these nanoparticles in the study of tumor metastasis.

Other nanoprobes for pulmonary imaging and diagnostics are also being examined experimentally. A recent study by le Masne de Chermont et al. (78) demonstrated that inorganic luminescent nanoparticles can be optically excited before injection into mice to provide long-lasting imaging of the lung. This was particularly evident for the positively charged nanoparticles that were studied, as noninvasive external detection revealed significant pulmonary accumulation of these nanoparticles up to 1 h following intravenous injection (78).

Therapeutic applications.

The potential therapeutic applications of nanoparticles in respiratory and systemic diseases are numerous (20, 21, 112,115, 133). A considerable thrust of recent research has been focused on determining the suitability of nanoparticles of various types to serve as vectors for the pulmonary delivery of drugs or genes via inhalation or systemic administration, whereas other efforts have been directed toward developing and delivering nano-sized drug particles to the lung (Table 1). The majority of the studies reported to date have focused on the utility of these strategies for the treatment of pulmonary infection. As an example, gene transfer using intranasal administration of chitosan-DNA nanospheres was shown to prophylactically inhibit respiratory syncytial virus infection and to reduce allergic airway inflammation in mice when given prophylactically or therapeutically (74, 75). Moreover, nanoparticle-mediated intranasal delivery of short interfering RNA (siRNA) targeted against a specific viral gene, NS1, has also been shown to inhibit respiratory syncytial virus infection in mice and rats (72, 161).

Table 1.

logo-ajplung

The usefulness of nano-sized drug particles as treatment modalities in models of pulmonary infection has also been investigated. Inhalation of aerosolized nano-sized itraconazole resulted in significantly higher lung concentrations in mice than did oral administration (138) and was found to prophylactically inhibit invasive pulmonary aspergillosis and reduce infection-related deaths in mice, whereas oral drug administration did not (4, 59). In addition, Pandey et al. (110) demonstrated that a single inhalation of aerosolized poly (DL-lactide-co-glycolide) nanoparticles loaded with antitubercular drugs (isoniazid, rifampicin, or pyrazinamide) resulted in therapeutic plasma drug levels for up to 6 days in guinea pigs and found that repeated inhalations were as effective as more frequent oral administrations of free drug in treating experimental tuberculosis. A subsequent study revealed that a single subcutaneous injection of these antitubercular drug-containing nanoparticles in mice resulted in therapeutic plasma drug levels for up to 32 days and was more effective at reducing bacterial counts in the lungs and spleen than was daily oral administration of free drug (109). Finally, Zahoor et al. (158) reported that the same antitubercular drugs were more effective than free oral drugs when they were encapsulated in alginate nanoparticles and administered via inhalation to guinea pigs.

Other studies relevant to the potential utility of nano-sized drugs in disease treatment have examined siRNA-mediated suppression of target mRNA levels following intranasal administration of chitosan-based nanoparticles in mice (61) and the pharmacokinetics of lipid-coated nanoparticles of 5-fluorouracil in hamsters (58). Moreover, allergic airway inflammation in mice has been shown to be reduced by intravenous administration of polymer nanoparticles coated with a P-selectin inhibitor (67) and by intranasal administration of chitosan nanoparticles carrying theophylline (79). Importantly, Dames et al. (30) recently reported on the ability to externally direct inhaled magnetically charged iron oxide nanoparticles to specific areas of the lungs of mice without adversely affecting respiratory mechanics, demonstrating for the first time that targeted aerosol delivery to the lungs is achievable. Such an approach could prove to be beneficial in the treatment of localized lung infections or tumors.

Although the majority of the toxicity studies that are discussed below focused on nonbiodegradable nanoparticles such as metals and carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles designed for clinical pulmonary drug delivery will likely be biodegradable (133). In this regard, Dailey et al. (29) reported that intratracheal administration of biodegradable polymeric nanoparticles to BALB/c mice did not induce pulmonary inflammation (measured as bronchoalveolar lavage fluid neutrophil influx, protein content, and lactate dehydrogenase activity), whereas nonbiodegradable polystyrene nanoparticles did. In addition to the treatment of lung diseases, the inhalation route is being explored for the systemic delivery of drugs to treat a variety of nonpulmonary ailments. This is due in part to the large surface area of the lungs and the relatively high bioavailability of many small molecules when administered by this route (113). As discussed below, human studies have not demonstrated systemic translocation of nanoparticles following inhalation, although some animal studies suggest that it is possible. Indeed, experimental animal data demonstrating achievement of therapeutic plasma drug levels following inhalation of nanoparticle-encapsulated antitubercular drugs (109, 110, 158) indicate that this approach may be feasible. Efforts to develop safe and effective nanoparticles for aerosol delivery are ongoing (33, 41, 52, 53, 124, 130) and will undoubtedly lead to significant advances in the treatment of respiratory and systemic diseases.

A simplified depiction of potential factors that may influence the effects of engineered nanoparticles on the respiratory system.

A simplified depiction of potential factors that may influence the effects of engineered nanoparticles on the respiratory system.

Fig. 2. From: Pulmonary applications and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles.

A simplified depiction of potential factors that may influence the effects of engineered nanoparticles on the respiratory system.
Jeffrey W. Card, et al. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2008 September;295(3):L400-L411.
…. more….

Studies in humans.

As summarized elsewhere (7, 107), inhaled particles of different sizes exhibit different fractional depositions within the human respiratory tract. Although inhaled ultrafine particles (<100 nm) deposit in all regions, tracheobronchial deposition is highest for particles <10 nm in size, whereas alveolar deposition is highest for particles approximately 10–20 nm in size (7, 107). Particles <20 nm in size also efficiently deposit in the nasopharyngeal-laryngeal region. Human studies of potential adverse pulmonary effects resulting from exposure to engineered nanoparticles appear to be limited, although a number of investigations into pulmonary deposition patterns of inhaled nanoparticles in the healthy and diseased lung have been conducted (5, 24, 28, 93). Computational models predict increased deposition of inhaled nanoparticles in diseased or constricted airways (44), and, consistent with this prediction, obstructive lung disease and asthma have both been demonstrated to increase their pulmonary retention (5, 24). Nonetheless, Pietropaoli et al. (114) did not observe differences between healthy and asthmatic subjects in respiratory parameters assessed up to 45 h after a 2-h inhalation of ultrafine carbon particles (up to 25 μg/m2), nor was airway inflammation observed in either group (measured as exhaled nitric oxide). Moreover, the same study reported that exposure of healthy subjects to a higher concentration of ultrafine carbon particles (50 μg/m2 for 2 h) resulted in decreased midexpiratory flow rate and carbon monoxide diffusing capacity 21 h after exposure, albeit still in the absence of airway inflammation (114). Thus nanoparticles may influence respiratory function and gas exchange without a concomitant induction of inflammation.

Several studies have also examined the potential for inhaled manufactured ultrafine particles (i.e., 99mtechnetium-labeled carbon nanoparticles) to translocate from the lungs to the systemic circulation in humans. This is an important issue to consider as inhaled engineered nanoparticles may exert adverse cardiovascular effects, similar to the proposed mechanism for the nanoparticulate fraction of urban air pollution (15, 40). All but one of the studies reported to date indicate that inhaled 99mtechnetium-labeled carbon nanoparticles are not detected outside of the lungs in appreciable quantities after inhalation (17, 91, 93, 100, 150, 151). However, as alluded to by Mills et al. (91), these findings do not indicate that other nanoparticles will behave in the same manner, nor do they rule out the possibility that nanoparticles may interact with and influence the vasculature. Moreover, the studies conducted to date have used a single inhalation exposure protocol, and it is possible that repeated exposures may result in greater pulmonary accumulation and translocation of significant quantities of nanoparticles to the circulation.

Studies in experimental animals.

Pulmonary effects resulting from airway administration of nanoparticles have been examined in a number of experimental animal studies, a summary of which is presented in Table 2. Although the primary outcomes of interest in the majority of these studies have been pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis, several have investigated distribution patterns within the lung and the potential translocation and systemic distribution of nanoparticles following pulmonary administration; these are summarized in Table 3. In addition to the endpoints listed in Tables 2 and and3,3, carcinogenic effects of inhaled nanoparticles (ultrafine particles) have, in some instances, been found to be more severe than those of larger size analogs. This is thought to result primarily from lung particle overload due to the inability of alveolar macrophages to recognize and/or clear particles of this size, leading to particle build up, chronic inflammation, fibrosis, and tumorigenesis. These effects are discussed in detail elsewhere (14, 101) and will not be covered here.

…..more…

Improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory diseases as a result of the application of nanotechnology are anticipated, and experimental evidence indicates that engineered nanoparticles have unique properties that may render them beneficial in visualizing disease processes earlier and in delivering therapeutics to the lung, possibly even to specific areas within the lung. Using the lungs as a portal of entry for nanoparticles in the treatment of systemic diseases is also being explored and holds tremendous promise. However, nanotechnology is not without its limitations, and of foremost concern is the current lack of knowledge regarding the potential toxicity of engineered nanoparticles. As has been summarized here, a considerable amount of data from in vitro and in vivo studies indicates that nanoparticles have the capacity to exert adverse pulmonary effects, although not all nanoparticles are equivalent in this regard. In addition, in vitro toxicities are not always predictive of in vivo effects or potencies and vice versa, underscoring the need for the continued development and refinement of a suitable testing strategy for assessing the pulmonary effects of nanoparticles. It is anticipated that continued investigation into the mechanisms underlying the adverse in vitro and in vivo effects summarized in this review and their relevance to human lung physiology and disease will lead to a better understanding of the potential hazards associated with nanoparticle exposure and to the development of safe and effective respiratory medical applications and therapeutics based on nanotechnology.

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Steroids, Inflammation, and CAR-T Therapy [6.3.8]

 

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

Corticosteroids have been used as anticancer agents since the 1940s, with activity reported in a wide variety of solid tumors, including breast and prostate cancer, and the lymphoid hematologic malignancies. They are commonly found in regimens for acute lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

 

A great review on the mechanism of action of prednisone’s antitumoral activity is seen in

Corticosteroids in the Treatment of Neoplasms Lorraine I. McKay, PhD and John A. Cidlowski, PhD. in Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. 6th edition.

 

It was first discovered that cortisone caused tumor regression in a transplantable mouse lymphosarcoma,81 a finding soon extended to a wide variety of murine lymphatic tumors. The effects of corticosteroids were also evaluated on many nonendocrine and nonlymphoid transplantable rodent tumors. Pharmacologic doses of steroid inhibited growth of various tumor systems.82 Tissue culture studies confirmed that lymphoid cells were the most sensitive to glucocorticoids, and responded to treatment with decreases in DNA, ribonucleic acid (RNA), and protein synthesis.83 Studies of proliferating human leukemic lymphoblasts supported the hypothesis that glucocorticoids have preferential lymphocytolytic effects. The mechanism of action was initially thought to be caused by impaired energy use via decreased glucose transport and/or phosphorylation; it was later discovered that glucocorticoids induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in certain lymphoid cell populations.84,85

 

 

–For review on corticosteroids in cancer therapy see more at: http://www.cancernetwork.com/review-article/corticosteroids-advanced-cancer#sthash.IwHbekuI.dpuf

However, as Dana Farber’s Dr. George Canellos, M.D. ponders in Can MOPP be replaced in the treatment of advanced Hodgkin’s disease? Semin Oncol. Canellos GP1. 1990 Feb;17(1 Suppl 2):2-6., many dose-limiting toxicities occur with MOPP (mechlorethamine, vincristine, procarbazine, prednisone) therapy used in advanced Hodgkin’s disease.  Although, at the time, he generally was looking to establish combination therapies with less side effect, the advent of more personalized therapies as well as immunotherapies may indeed replace the older regimens for B-cell malignancies and Hodgkin’s disease, and their panels of toxicities.

Short-term side effects of prednisone (Cancer.gov prednisone description with side effects) as with all glucocorticoids, include high blood glucose levels (especially in patients with diabetes mellitus or on other medications that increase blood glucose, such as tacrolimus) and mineralocorticoid effects such as fluid retention.[10] The mineralocorticoid effects of prednisone are minor, which is why it is not used in the management of adrenal insufficiency, unless a more potent mineralocorticoid is administered concomitantly.

Long-term side effects include Cushing’s syndrome, steroid dementia syndrome, truncal weight gain, osteoporosis, glaucoma and cataracts, type II diabetes mellitus, and depression upon dose reduction or cessation.

Therefore the oncology world has been moving toward therapies which are more selective with less dose-limiting toxicities (e.g. Rituximab), and are looking to CAR-T therapies as a possible replacement for standard chemotherapeutic regimens. However, as with prednisone, there have been serious adverse events in some CAR-T clinical trials. Luckily clinicians, as discussed below, have found supportive therapies to alleviate the most severe side effects to CAR-T.

This section will be refer to supportive therapies as those adjuvant therapy given to alleviate patient discomfort, reduce toxicities and adverse event, or support patient well-being during their course of chemotherapy, not adjuvant therapy to enhance antitumoral effect.

For more background information of CAR-T therapies and related issues please see my previous post

NIH Considers Guidelines for CAR-T therapy: Report from Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee

The following is a brief re-post of some of the important points for reference to this new posting.

1. Evolution of Chimeric Antigen Receptors

Early evidence had suggested that adoptive transfer of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, after depletion of circulating lymphocytes, could result in a clinical response in some tumor patients however developments showed autologous T-cells (obtained from same patient) could be engineered to express tumor-associated antigens (TAA) and replace the TILS in the clinical setting.

A brief history of construction of 2nd and 3rd generation CAR-T cells given by cancer.gov:

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/research-updates/2013/CAR-T-Cells

cartdiagrampic

Differences between  second- and third-generation chimeric antigen receptor T cells. (Adapted by permission from the American Association for Cancer Research: Lee, DW et al. The Future Is Now: Chimeric Antigen Receptors as New Targeted Therapies for Childhood Cancer. Clin Cancer Res; 2012;18(10); 2780–90. doi:10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-11-1920)

Constructing a CAR T Cell (from cancer.gov)

The first efforts to engineer T cells to be used as a cancer treatment began in the early 1990s. Since then, researchers have learned how to produce T cells that express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) that recognize specific targets on cancer cells.

The T cells are genetically modified to produce these receptors. To do this, researchers use viral vectors that are stripped of their ability to cause illness but that retain the capacity to integrate into cells’ DNA to deliver the genetic material needed to produce the T-cell receptors.

The second- and third-generation CARs typically consist of a piece of monoclonal antibody, called a single-chain variable fragment (scFv), that resides on the outside of the T-cell membrane and is linked to stimulatory molecules (Co-stim 1 and Co-stim 2) inside the T cell. The scFv portion guides the cell to its target antigen. Once the T cell binds to its target antigen, the stimulatory molecules provide the necessary signals for the T cell to become fully active. In this fully active state, the T cells can more effectively proliferate and attack cancer cells.

2. Consideration for Design of Trials and Mitigating Toxicities

  • Early Toxic effectsCytokine Release Syndrome– The effectiveness of CART therapy has been manifested by release of high levels of cytokines resulting in fever and inflammatory sequelae. One such cytokine, interleukin 6, has been attributed to this side effect and investigators have successfully used an IL6 receptor antagonist, tocilizumab (Acterma™), to alleviate symptoms of cytokine release syndrome (see review Adoptive T-cell therapy: adverse events and safety switches by Siok-Keen Tey).
  • Early Toxic effects – Over-activation of CAR T-cells; mitigation by dose escalation strategy (as authors in reference [3] proposed). Most trials give billions of genetically modified cells to a patient.
  • Late Toxic Effectslong-term depletion of B-cells . For example CART directing against CD19 or CD20 on B cells may deplete the normal population of CD19 or CD20 B-cells over time; possibly managed by IgG supplementation

References

  1. Ertl HC, Zaia J, Rosenberg SA, June CH, Dotti G, Kahn J, Cooper LJ, Corrigan-Curay J, Strome SE: Considerations for the clinical application of chimeric antigen receptor T cells: observations from a recombinant DNA Advisory Committee Symposium held June 15, 2010. Cancer research 2011, 71(9):3175-3181.
  2. Morgan RA, Yang JC, Kitano M, Dudley ME, Laurencot CM, Rosenberg SA: Case report of a serious adverse event following the administration of T cells transduced with a chimeric antigen receptor recognizing ERBB2. Molecular therapy : the journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy 2010, 18(4):843-851.
  3. Kandalaft LE, Powell DJ, Jr., Coukos G: A phase I clinical trial of adoptive transfer of folate receptor-alpha redirected autologous T cells for recurrent ovarian cancer. Journal of translational medicine 2012, 10:157.

 

3. Case Reports of Adverse Events and Their Amelioration During CAR-T Therapy

CAR-T Therapy have Had reports of Serious Adverse Events

From FierceBiotech UPDATED: Two deaths force MSK to hit the brakes on engineered T cell cancer study

April 6, 2014 | By John Carroll

Safety concerns forced investigators at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to suspend patient recruitment for an early-stage study of a closely watched approach to reengineering the immune system to fight cancer. Several days ago MSK updated a site on clinicaltrials.gov to note that it was halting recruitment for a small study using T cells reengineered with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) against CD19-positive B cells for aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, triggering concerns about the potential fallout at Juno Therapeutics, the biotech formed to commercialize the effort. And Sunday evening representatives for MSK revealed at the meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in San Diego that the deaths of two patients spurred investigators to rethink the trial protocol on recruitment, revamping the patient profile to account for the threat of comorbidities while adjusting the dose “based on the extent of disease at the time of treatment.”

For more on this story please see

Source: http://www.fiercebiotech.com/story/memorial-sloan-kettering-hits-brakes-engineered-t-cell-cancer-study/2014-04-06

Keynote presentation by Carl H. June, recipient of The Richard V. Smalley MD 2013 Award

 

As reported in 2013 in Highlights and summary of the 28th annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer by Paolo A Ascierto1, David H Munn2, Anna K Palucka34 and Paul M Sondel in Journal of ImmunoTherapy of Cancer

Since 2005, SITC honors a luminary in the field who has significantly contributed to the advancement of cancer immunotherapy research by presenting the annual Richard V. Smalley MD Memorial Award, which is associated with the Smalley keynote lecture at the Annual SITC meeting. The awardee this year Carl H. June of the University of Pennsylvania, has led innovative translational research for over 25 years, with the most recent focus being the development of the Chimeric Antigen Receptor modified T-cell (CART) approach. Carl June summarized how the past 15 years of progress have expanded upon the original concept presented by Zelig Eshhar [4], in which variable regions of tumor-reactive monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) (VH and VL) are linked to transmembrane and signaling domains of T cell activating molecules to create membrane based receptors with specificity for the tumor antigen recognized by the original mAb [4]. These receptors can be transfected into T cells, for example with lentiviruses. Pre-clinical work demonstrated how CD3-ζ and 41BB signaling components enhanced proliferation and survival of T cells in hypoxic conditions. The initial clinical work has been done with CART reactive to CD-19 on malignant B cells, with progress particularly in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in adults and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in children [5,6]. As of the SITC meeting, CarlJune’s team had treated 35 patients with CLL and 20 with ALL. Of the 20 with ALL, ½ had relapsed after allogeneic BMT. Of these 20 children, 17 were in complete remission, and with persistent B cell aplasia; documenting the persistent effects of the CART cells. Toxicities included the persistent B cell aplasia and profound tumor lysis and cytokine storm, seen 1–2 weeks into the treatment for ALL. This cytokine storm has been ameliorated by using anti-IL6 mAb. The B cell aplasia, while undesired, is acceptable, as patients can receive passive replacement of IgG, thus making their B cells “expendable”. These CART cells can traffic into the CNS. In ALL patients, it appears that each individual CART cell (or its progeny) can destroy 1000 tumor cells. Ongoing efforts in CarlJune’s program, and at other centers, are now moving into analyses of CART reactive with other tumor targets, by using mAbs that recognize antigens expressed on other tumors. Among these are EGFR on glioblastoma, PSMA on prostate cancer, mesothelin on ovarian cancer, HER2 on breast (and other) cancers, and several other targets. Because some of these targets are also expressed on normal tissues that are “not expendable”, novel approaches are being developed to decrease the potency or longevity of the CART effect, to decrease potential toxicity. This includes generating “short lived” CART cells by inducing CAR expression with short-lived RNA, rather than transfecting with a DNA construct that remains permanently.

In T-Cell Immunotherapy: Looking Forward Molecular Therapy (2014); 22 9, 1564–1574. doi:10.1038/mt.2014.148 many of the leading CAR-T clinicians and investigators reported on some of the adverse events related o CAR-T therapy including

  • 40 severe adverse events (SAE) had been reported from 2010 to 2013.
  • B-cell aplasia
  • Systemic inflammatory release syndrome (CRS) {the most sever toxicity seen}
  • Tumor lysis syndrome
  • CNS toxicity
  • Macrophage activation syndrome

According to the investigators the systemic inflammatory release syndrome (CRS) is the most severe toxicity seen

The most commonly reported adverse event is CRS,49 with about three-quarters of the patients with CRS requiring admission to an intensive care unit. In the case of CAR therapy, the onset of CRS is related to the particular signaling domain in the CAR, with early-onset CRS in the first several days after infusion related to CARs that encode a CD28 signaling domain.4,16 By contrast, CARs encoding a 4-1BB signaling domain tend to have delayed-onset CRS (range, 7 to 50 days) after CAR T-cell infusion.6 CRS has also been reported after the infusion of TCR-modified T cells, with onset typically five to seven days after infusion. The development of CRS is often, but not invariably, associated with clinically beneficial tumor regression. Several cytokines have been reported to be elevated in the serum—most commonly, interferon (IFN)-γ, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and interleukin (IL)-6. Management of CRS has included supportive care, corticosteroids, etanercept, tocilizumab, and alemtuzumab. The role of suicide genes in the management of CRS remains unknown.50

This supportive therapy have now been included in all protocols now and sites are engaged in developing pharmacovigilance protocol development for CAR-T therapy.

 

Other posts on this site on Immunotherapy and Cancer include

Combined anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD1 immunotherapy shows promising results against advanced melanoma

Molecular Profiling in Cancer Immunotherapy: Debraj GuhaThakurta, PhD

Pancreatic Cancer: Genetics, Genomics and Immunotherapy

$20 million Novartis deal with ‘University of Pennsylvania’ to develop Ultra-Personalized Cancer Immunotherapy

Upcoming Meetings on Cancer Immunogenetics

Tang Prize for 2014: Immunity and Cancer

ipilimumab, a Drug that blocks CTLA-4 Freeing T cells to Attack Tumors @DM Anderson Cancer Center

Juno’s approach eradicated cancer cells in 10 of 12 leukemia patients, indicating potential to transform the standard of care in oncology

Report on Cancer Immunotherapy Market & Clinical Pipeline Insight

New Immunotherapy Could Fight a Range of Cancers

 

Read Full Post »


Medical Headline Misinformation Strikes Again: Claims About Vitamin D

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

A recent posting by a group called the Vitamin D Council (and put on this site) had referred to, and misquoted, the Mayo Clinic site on the role of vitamin D on various diseases. At first I was curious if this was actually reported on the Mayo site on claims of prevention of various cancers (as results from retrospective studies had been conflicting) and originally had made some strong comments. From comments made from this post I do agree that there is strong evidence about vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of rickets but as Mayo reviewed claims about vitamin D supplementation and prevention of certain diseases such as cancers and heart disease may not be as strong as some suggest.  My main concern was : is the clinical evidence strong enough for the role of vitamin D supplementation in a wide array of diseases and did Mayo make the claims as suggested in some media reports?  Actually Mayo does a very thorough job of determining the clinical evidence and the focus of vitamins and cancer risk will be a point of further discussion.

After consulting the Mayo clinic website it appears that the Vitamin D Council site had indeed misquoted and misrepresented the medical information contained within the Mayo Clinic website.

Medical Misinformation Is Probably The Most Hazardous and Biggest Risk Impacting a Healthy Lifestyle

The site had made numerous claims on role of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in numerous diseases; making it appear there were definitive links between low vitamin D3 and risk of hypertension, cancer, depression and diabetes.

A little background on Vitamin D

From Wikipedia

Vitamin D refers to a group of fat-soluble secosteroids responsible for enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).[1] Cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol can be ingested from the diet and from supplements.[1][2][3] Very few foods contain vitamin D; synthesis of vitamin D (specifically cholecalciferol) in the skin is the major natural sources of the vitamin. Dermal synthesis of vitamin D from cholesterol is dependent on sun exposure (specifically UVB radiation).Vitamin D has a significant role in calcium homeostasis and metabolism. Its discovery was due to effort to find the dietary substance lacking in rickets (the childhood form of osteomalacia).[4]

also from Widipedia on Vitamin D toxicity

Vitamin D toxicity

Vitamin D toxicity is rare.[20] It is caused by supplementing with high doses of vitamin D rather than sunlight. The threshold for vitamin D toxicity has not been established; however, the tolerable upper intake level (UL), according to some research, is 4,000 IU/day for ages 9–71.[7] Whereas another research concludes that in healthy adults, sustained intake of more than 1250 μg/day (50,000 IU) can produce overt toxicity after several months and can increase serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels to 150 ng/ml and greater;[20][56] those with certain medical conditions, such as primary hyperparathyroidism,[57] are far more sensitive to vitamin D and develop hypercalcemia in response to any increase in vitamin D nutrition, while maternal hypercalcemia during pregnancy may increase fetal sensitivity to effects of vitamin D and lead to a syndrome of mental retardation and facial deformities.[57][58]

After being commissioned by the Canadian and American governments, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) as of 30 November 2010, has increased the tolerable upper limit (UL) to 2,500 IU per day for ages 1–3 years, 3,000 IU per day for ages 4–8 years and 4,000 IU per day for ages 9–71+ years (including pregnant or lactating women).[7]

Published cases of toxicity involving hypercalcemia in which the vitamin D dose and the 25-hydroxy-vitamin D levels are known all involve an intake of ≥40,000 IU (1,000 μg) per day.[57] Recommending supplementation, when those supposedly in need of it are labeled healthy, has proved contentious, and doubt exists concerning long-term effects of attaining and maintaining high serum 25(OH)D by supplementation.[61]

From the Mayo Clinic Website on Vitamin D

The Mayo Clinic has done a wonderful job curating the uses and proposed uses of vitamin D for various diseases and rates the evidence using a grading system A-F (as shown below):

Key to grades

A STRONG scientific evidence FOR THIS USE

B GOOD scientific evidence FOR THIS USE

C UNCLEAR scientific evidence for this use

D Fair scientific evidence AGAINST THIS USE (it may not work)

F Strong scientific evidence AGAINST THIS USE (it likely does not work)

Mayo has information for other natural products as well. As described below (and on the Mayo site here) most of the supposed evidence fails their criteria for a strong clinical link between diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, cancer and vitamin D (either parental or D3) levels.

The important take-home from the Mayo site is that there is strong evidence for the use of vitamin D in diseases related to the known mechanism of vitamin D such as low serum phosphate either due to kidney disease (Fanconi syndrome) or familial hypophosphatemia or in diseases surrounding bone metabolism like osteomalacia, rickets, dental cavities and even as a treatment for psoriasis or underactive parathyroid.

However most indications like hypertension, stroke, cancer prevention or treatment (other than supportive therapy for low vitamin D levels) get a poor grade (C or D) for clinical correlation from Mayo Clinic.

A Post in the Near Future will be a Curation of Validated Clinical Studies on Effects of Vitamins on Cancer Risk.

Below is taken from the Mayo Site:

Evidence

These uses have been tested in humans or animals.  Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven.  Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Grading rationale

Evidence grade Condition to which grade level applies
A

Deficiency (phosphate)

Familial hypophosphatemia is a rare, inherited condition in which there are low blood levels of phosphate and problems with vitamin D metabolism. It is a form of rickets. Taking calcitriol or dihydrotachysterol by mouth along with phosphate supplements is effective for treating bone disorders in people with this disease. Those with this disorder should be monitored by a medical professional.

A

Kidney disease (causing low phosphate levels)

Fanconi syndrome is a kidney disease in which nutrients, including phosphate, are lost in the urine instead of being reabsorbed by the body. Taking ergocalciferol by mouth is effective for treating low phosphate levels caused by Fanconi syndrome.

A

Osteomalacia (bone softening in adults)

Adults who have severe vitamin D deficiency may experience bone pain and softness, as well as muscle weakness. Osteomalacia may be found among the following people: those who are elderly and have diets low in vitamin D; those with problems absorbing vitamin D; those without enough sun exposure; those who undergo stomach or intestine surgery; those with bone disease caused by aluminum; those with chronic liver disease; or those with bone disease associated with kidney problems. Treatment for osteomalacia depends on the cause of the disease and often includes pain control and surgery, as well as vitamin D and phosphate-binding agents.

A

Psoriasis (disorder causing skin redness and irritation)

Many different approaches are used to treat psoriasis, including light therapy, stress reduction, moisturizers, or salicylic acid. For more severe cases, calcipotriene (Dovonex®), a man-made substance similar to vitamin D3, may help control skin cell growth. This agent is a first-line treatment for mild-to-moderate psoriasis. Calcipotriene is also available with betamethasone and may be safe for up to one year. Vitamin D3 (tacalcitol) ointment or high doses of becocalcidiol applied to the skin are also thought to be safe and well-tolerated.

A

Rickets (bone weakening in children)

Rickets may develop in children who have vitamin D deficiency caused by a diet low in vitamin D, a lack of sunlight, or both. Babies fed only breast milk (without supplemental vitamin D) may also develop rickets. Ergocalciferol or cholecalciferol is effective for treating rickets caused by vitamin D deficiency. Calcitriol should be used in those with kidney failure. Treatment should be under medical supervision.

A

Thyroid conditions (causing low calcium levels)

Low levels of parathyroid hormone may occur after surgery to remove the parathyroid glands. Taking high doses of dihydrotachysterol, calcitriol, or ergocalciferol by mouth, with or without calcium, may help increase calcium levels in people with this type of thyroid problem. Increasing calcium intake, with or without vitamin D, may reduce the risk of underactive parathyroid glands.

A

Thyroid conditions (due to low vitamin D levels)

Some people may have overactive parathyroid glands due to low levels of vitamin D, and vitamin D is the first treatment for this disorder. For people who have overactive parathyroid glands due to other causes, surgery to remove the glands is often recommended. Studies suggest that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of further thyroid problems after undergoing partial or total removal of the parathyroid glands.

A

Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many conditions, including bone loss, kidney disease, lung disorders, diabetes, stomach and intestine problems, and heart disease. Vitamin D supplementation has been found to help prevent or treat vitamin D deficiency.

B

Dental cavities

Much evidence has shown that vitamin D helps prevent cavities; however, more high-quality research is needed to further support this finding.

B

Renal osteodystrophy (bone problems due to chronic kidney failure)

Renal osteodystrophy refers to the bone problems that occur in people with chronic kidney failure. Calcifediol or ergocalciferol taken by mouth may help prevent this condition in people with chronic kidney failure who are undergoing treatment.

C

Autoimmune diseases

Vitamin D may reduce inflammation and help prevent autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease. However, further high-quality research is needed to confirm these results.

C

Bone density (children)

Vitamin D improves bone density in children who are vitamin D deficient. However, results are unclear and more research is needed.

C

Bone diseases (kidney disease or kidney transplant)

Vitamin D has been studied for people with chronic kidney disease. The use of substances similar to vitamin D has been found to increase bone density in people with kidney disease. The effect of vitamin D itself is unclear. Further research is needed before conclusions can be made.

C

Cancer prevention (breast, colorectal, prostate, other)

Many studies have looked at the effects of vitamin D on cancer. Positive results have been reported with the use of vitamin D alone or with calcium. Vitamin D intake with or without calcium has been studied for colorectal, cervical, breast, and prostate cancer. A reduced risk of colorectal cancer has been shown with vitamin D supplementation. However, there is a lack of consistent or strong evidence. Further study is needed.

C

Fibromyalgia (long-term, body-wide pain)

Vitamin D has been studied for the treatment of fibromyalgia, but evidence is lacking in support of its effectiveness. Further study is needed.

C

Fractures (prevention)

Conflicting results have been found on the use of vitamin D for fracture prevention. The combination of alfacalcidol and alendronate has been found to reduce the risk of falls and fractures. However, further high-quality research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

C

Hepatic osteodystrophy (bone disease in people with liver disease)

Metabolic bone disease is common among people with chronic liver disease, and osteoporosis accounts for the majority of cases. Varying degrees of poor calcium absorption may occur in people with chronic liver disease due to malnutrition and vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D taken by mouth or injected may play a role in the management of this condition.

C

High blood pressure

Low levels of vitamin D may be linked to high blood pressure. Blood pressure is often higher during the winter season, at a further distance from the equator, and in people with dark skin pigmentation. However, the evidence is unclear. More research is needed in this area. People who have high blood pressure should be managed by a medical professional.

C

Immune function

Early research suggests that vitamin D and similar compounds, such as alfacalcidol, may impact immune function. Vitamin D added to standard therapy may benefit people with infectious disease. More studies are needed to confirm these results.

C

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

SAD is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months, possibly due to reduced exposure to sunlight. In one study, vitamin D was found to be better than light therapy in the treatment of SAD. Further studies are necessary to confirm these findings.

C

Stroke

Higher levels of vitamin D may decrease the risk of stroke. However, further study is needed to confirm the use of vitamin D for this condition.

C

Type 1 diabetes

Some studies suggest that vitamin D may help prevent the development of type 1 diabetes. However, there is a lack of strong evidence to support this finding.

C

Type 2 diabetes

Vitamin D has mixed effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. It is often studied in combination with calcium. Further research is needed to confirm these results.

D

Cancer treatment (prostate)

Evidence suggests a lack of effect of vitamin D as a part of cancer treatment for prostate cancer. Further study is needed using other formulations of vitamin D and other types of cancer.

D

Heart disease

Vitamin D is recognized as being important for heart health. Overall, research is not consistent, and some studies have found negative effects of vitamin D on heart health. More high-quality research is needed to make a firm conclusion.

D

High cholesterol

Many studies have looked at the effects of vitamin D alone or in combination with other agents for high cholesterol, but results are inconsistent. Some negative effects have been reported. More research is needed on the use of vitamin D alone or in combination with calcium.

Other related articles on Vitamins and Disease were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, include the following:

Multivitamins – Don’t help Extend Life or ward off Heart Disease and Improve state of Memory Loss

Diet and Diabetes

What do you know about Plants and Neutraceuticals?

Malnutrition in India, high newborn death rate and stunting of children age under five years

Omega-3 fatty acids, depleting the source, and protein insufficiency in renal disease

American Diet is LOW in four important Nutrients that have a direct bearing on Aging and the Brain

Parathyroids and Bone Metabolism

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