Photoreceptors are the most numerous and metabolically demanding cells in the retina. Their primary nutrient source is the choriocapillaris, and both the choriocapillaris and photoreceptors require trophic and functional support from retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells. Defects in RPE, photoreceptors, and the choriocapillaris are characteristic of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common vision-threatening disease. RPE dysfunction or death is a primary event in AMD, but the combination(s) of cellular stresses that affect the function and survival of RPE are incompletely understood. Here, using mouse models in which hypoxia can be genetically triggered in RPE, we show that hypoxia-induced metabolic stress alone leads to photoreceptor atrophy. Glucose and lipid metabolism are radically altered in hypoxic RPE cells; these changes impact nutrient availability for the sensory retina and promote progressive photoreceptor degeneration. Understanding the molecular pathways that control these responses may provide important clues about AMD pathogenesis and inform future therapies.
Animal experimentation: This study was performed in strict accordance with the recommendations in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the National Institutes of Health. All of the animals were handled according to approved institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) protocols (#08-0045-3) of the Scripps Research Institute. All surgery was performed under isofluorane and/or ketamine/xylazine anesthesia, and every effort was made to minimize suffering.
- Jeremy Nathans, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, United States
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Serine palmitoyl transferase (SPT), the rate-limiting enzyme in the de novo synthesis of sphingolipids (SL), is needed for embryonic development, physiological homeostasis, and response to stress. The functions of de novo SL synthesis in vascular endothelial cells (EC), which line the entire circulatory system, are not well understood. Here we show that the de novo SL synthesis in EC not only regulates vascular development but also maintains circulatory and peripheral organ SL levels. Mice with an endothelial-specific gene knockout of SPTLC1 (Sptlc1 ECKO), an essential subunit of the SPT complex, exhibited reduced EC proliferation and tip/stalk cell differentiation, resulting in delayed retinal vascular development. In addition, Sptlc1 ECKO mice had reduced retinal neovascularization in the oxygen-induced retinopathy model. Mechanistic studies suggest that EC SL produced from the de novo pathway are needed for lipid raft formation and efficient VEGF signaling. Post-natal deletion of the EC Sptlc1 also showed rapid reduction of several SL metabolites in plasma, red blood cells, and peripheral organs (lung and liver) but not in the retina, part of the central nervous system (CNS). In the liver, EC de novo SL synthesis was important for acetaminophen-induced rapid ceramide elevation and hepatotoxicity. These results suggest that EC-derived SL metabolites are in constant flux between the vasculature, circulatory elements, and parenchymal cells of non-CNS organs. Taken together, our data point to the central role of the endothelial SL biosynthesis in maintaining vascular development, neovascular proliferation, non-CNS tissue metabolic homeostasis, and hepatocyte response to stress.
During times of unpredictable stress, organisms must adapt their gene expression to maximize survival. Along with changes in transcription, one conserved means of gene regulation during conditions that quickly repress translation is the formation of cytoplasmic phase-separated mRNP granules such as P-bodies and stress granules. Previously, we identified that distinct steps in gene expression can be coupled during glucose starvation as promoter sequences in the nucleus are able to direct the subcellular localization and translatability of mRNAs in the cytosol. Here, we report that Rvb1 and Rvb2, conserved ATPase proteins implicated as protein assembly chaperones and chromatin remodelers, were enriched at the promoters and mRNAs of genes involved in alternative glucose metabolism pathways that we previously found to be transcriptionally upregulated but translationally downregulated during glucose starvation in yeast. Engineered Rvb1/Rvb2-binding on mRNAs was sufficient to sequester mRNAs into mRNP granules and repress their translation. Additionally, this Rvb tethering to the mRNA drove further transcriptional upregulation of the target genes. Further, we found that depletion of Rvb2 caused decreased alternative glucose metabolism gene mRNA induction, but upregulation of protein synthesis during glucose starvation. Overall, our results point to Rvb1/Rvb2 coupling transcription, mRNA granular localization, and translatability of mRNAs during glucose starvation. This Rvb-mediated rapid gene regulation could potentially serve as an efficient recovery plan for cells after stress removal.