Ückert, Anna-Katharina


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Identification of the bacterial metabolite aerugine as potential trigger of human dopaminergic neurodegeneration

2023-09, Ückert, Anna-Katharina, Rütschlin, Sina, Gutbier, Simon, Hauer, Isa, Holzer, Anna-Katharina, Meyburg, Birthe, Mix, Ann-Kathrin, Hauck, Christof R., Böttcher, Thomas, Leist, Marcel

The causes of nigrostriatal cell death in idiopathic Parkinson’s disease are unknown, but exposure to toxic chemicals may play some role. We followed up here on suggestions that bacterial secondary metabolites might be selectively cytotoxic to dopaminergic neurons. Extracts from Streptomyces venezuelae were found to kill human dopaminergic neurons (LUHMES cells). Utilizing this model system as a bioassay, we identified a bacterial metabolite known as aerugine (C10H11NO2S; 2-[4-(hydroxymethyl)-4,5-dihydro-1,3-thiazol-2-yl]phenol) and confirmed this finding by chemical re-synthesis. This 2-hydroxyphenyl-thiazoline compound was previously shown to be a product of a wide-spread biosynthetic cluster also found in the human microbiome and in several pathogens. Aerugine triggered half-maximal dopaminergic neurotoxicity at 3-4 µM. It was less toxic for other neurons (10-20 µM), and non-toxic (at <100 µM) for common human cell lines. Neurotoxicity was completely prevented by several iron chelators, by distinct anti-oxidants and by a caspase inhibitor. In the Caenorhabditis elegans model organism, general survival was not affected by aerugine concentrations up to 100 µM. When transgenic worms, expressing green fluorescent protein only in their dopamine neurons, were exposed to aerugine, specific neurodegeneration was observed. The toxicant also exerted functional dopaminergic toxicity in nematodes as determined by the “basal slowing response” assay. Thus, our research has unveiled a bacterial metabolite with a remarkably selective toxicity toward human dopaminergic neurons in vitro and for the dopaminergic nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans in vivo. These findings suggest that microbe-derived environmental chemicals should be further investigated for their role in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease.


Dynamic Metabolic and Transcriptional Responses of Proteasome-Inhibited Neurons

2023-01-10, Suciu, Ilinca, Delp, Johannes, Gutbier, Simon, Ückert, Anna-Katharina, Spreng, Anna-Sophie, Karreman, Christiaan, Schreiber, Falk, Celardo, Ivana, Amelio, Ivano, Leist, Marcel

Proteasome inhibition is associated with parkinsonian pathology in vivo and degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in vitro. We explored here the metabolome (386 metabolites) and transcriptome (3257 transcripts) regulations of human LUHMES neurons, following exposure to MG-132 [100 nM]. This proteasome inhibitor killed cells within 24 h but did not reduce viability for 12 h. Overall, 206 metabolites were changed in live neurons. The early (3 h) metabolome changes suggested a compromised energy metabolism. For instance, AMP, NADH and lactate were up-regulated, while glycolytic and citric acid cycle intermediates were down-regulated. At later time points, glutathione-related metabolites were up-regulated, most likely by an early oxidative stress response and activation of NRF2/ATF4 target genes. The transcriptome pattern confirmed proteostatic stress (fast up-regulation of proteasome subunits) and also suggested the progressive activation of additional stress response pathways. The early ones (e.g., HIF-1, NF-kB, HSF-1) can be considered a cytoprotective cellular counter-regulation, which maintained cell viability. For instance, a very strong up-regulation of AIFM2 (=FSP1) may have prevented fast ferroptotic death. For most of the initial period, a definite life–death decision was not taken, as neurons could be rescued for at least 10 h after the start of proteasome inhibition. Late responses involved p53 activation and catabolic processes such as a loss of pyrimidine synthesis intermediates. We interpret this as a phase of co-occurrence of protective and maladaptive cellular changes. Altogether, this combined metabolomics–transcriptomics analysis informs on responses triggered in neurons by proteasome dysfunction that may be targeted by novel therapeutic intervention in Parkinson’s disease.


Design and evaluation of bi-functional iron chelators for protection of dopaminergic neurons from toxicants

2020-09, Gutbier, Simon, Kyriakou, Sotiris, Schildknecht, Stefan, Ückert, Anna-Katharina, Brüll, Markus, Lewis, Frank, Dickens, David, Pearson, Liam, Elson, Joanna L., Leist, Marcel

While the etiology of non-familial Parkinson’s disease (PD) remains unclear, there is evidence that increased levels of tissue iron may be a contributing factor. Moreover, exposure to some environmental toxicants is considered an additional risk factor. Therefore, brain-targeted iron chelators are of interest as antidotes for poisoning with dopaminergic toxicants, and as potential treatment of PD. We, therefore, designed a series of small molecules with high affinity for ferric iron and containing structural elements to allow their transport to the brain via the neutral amino acid transporter, LAT1 (SLC7A5). Five candidate molecules were synthesized and initially characterized for protection from ferroptosis in human neurons. The promising hydroxypyridinone SK4 was characterized further. Selective iron chelation within the physiological range of pH values and uptake by LAT1 were confirmed. Concentrations of 10–20 µM blocked neurite loss and cell demise triggered by the parkinsonian neurotoxicants, methyl-phenyl-pyridinium (MPP+) and 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) in human dopaminergic neuronal cultures (LUHMES cells). Rescue was also observed when chelators were given after the toxicant. SK4 derivatives that either lacked LAT1 affinity or had reduced iron chelation potency showed altered activity in our assay panel, as expected. Thus, an iron chelator was developed that revealed neuroprotective properties, as assessed in several models. The data strongly support the role of iron in dopaminergic neurotoxicity and suggests further exploration of the proposed design strategy for improving brain iron chelation.