There is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 and the virus, SARS-CoV-2, that caused the pandemic and changed the way we live. But there are two things we do know about the disease: 1) Patients with diabetes and high blood glucose levels are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms with higher mortality. 2) Patients that experience an uncontrolled inflammatory response, called the cytokine storm, also develop more severe COVID-19 symptoms. The fact that both high glucose levels and an exaggerated immune response drive severe disease suggests that the two may be linked. But how? The answer may lie in the metabolism of immune cells in the lungs of COVID-19 patients, according to a recent study published in Cell Metabolism.Continue reading “How A Change in Immune Cell Metabolism Contributes to Severe COVID-19”
Welcome to the emerging frontier of immunometabolism. A decade ago, immunology and metabolism were seen as two distinct areas of study. However, we now know that specific metabolic activities are required for proper immune cell differentiation and function. In tumor microenvironments, immune cells may even alter their metabolism to compete with tumor cells for limiting nutrients.
Glucose metabolism in Naïve vs Effector T cells
What does your car and T cells have in common? They both shift gears! You can shift gears on your car to change the way the engine’s power is used to match driving conditions; when you’re going uphill, you switch to a higher gear. Similarly, when T cells are activated, they change the way they generate energy to match functional needs. This makes sense because activated T cells (known as effector T cells) require more energy and biomass to support growth, proliferation and effector functions.
While cars run on gas, the main fuel for T cells is glucose. Each glucose molecule is broken down into pyruvate while generating 2 ATP molecules. Naïve T cells completely oxidize pyruvate through oxidative phosphorylation to generate 36 ATPs per glucose molecule. However, when T cells are activated and become effector T cells, glycolysis is used to produce 2 ATPs per glucose molecule. Continue reading “Measuring Metabolic Changes in T cells with the Lactate-Glo Assay”
Introduction to Glucose Metabolism
Many think of glucose as something diabetics have to test each day using a blood monitor, or a quick energy boost for someone exercising intensely. However, the simple sugar glucose, a monosaccharide, fuels most of the cells in our bodies. Disaccharides that contain glucose (e.g., sucrose is comprised of glucose and fructose) and glucose polymers (e.g., starch and glycogen) are carbohydrates that are consumed by organisms from bacteria to humans to produce energy. These carbohydrates are broken down into component monosaccharides like glucose and lactose. The process of glycolysis generates the energy currency of cells, ATP, as well as precursor molecules for nucleotides, lipids and amino acids. Because glucose is the cell fuel source, the uptake of glucose and its subsequent metabolism is increased by cells that divide rapidly like cancer cells. The more energy and precursor molecules the cancer cell can create for itself, the more rapidly the tumor can grow.
Because glucose metabolism is central to cellular functioning, changes that decrease glucose uptake or increase glycolysis have a widespread effect on on both the cells and organism. How does a simple sugar molecule create such broad effects on health? For example, diabetes results from the inability to store glucose because of a lack of insulin, a hormone that draws glucose from the blood and stores it as glycogen in the liver, muscles and adipose tissue. High levels of sugar in the blood negatively affect the body over the long term, damaging blood vessels and eyesight, making the kidneys work harder to excrete the excess sugar and increasing the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease. Because cancer cells have such a high metabolic demand for glucose, many of the mutations in cancers affect pathways that regulate glucose uptake and glucose breakdown, allowing the cancer cells to survive and grow, crowding out nearby normal cells.
Glucose metabolism is altered by processes other than mutations or an reduced production of a hormone. Throughout its life cycle, a cell will vary its requirements for glucose. For example, the cells that comprise our innate immune response are typically in a quiescent or steady state. However, when these immune cells encounter an foreign invader, they become activated and increase their demand for glucose. To respond to a potential pathogen, the activated cells need glucose to fuel cell proliferation and the production of cytokines, chemicals that activate other immune cells and initiate an inflammatory response. The typical signs of inflammation are red inflamed area that may be painful to the touch, such as a cut that becomes infected. Most inflammation resolves when the infection is eliminated, leaving behind whole skin in the instance of a cut, and the activated immune cells become quiescent again.
An Interesting Observation about Glucose Metabolism in M2 Macrophages
Glucose uptake, immunity and metabolism are cellular pathways that are intertwined such that understanding how glucose is utilized in macrophages illuminates gene induction and regulation in activated macrophages. In a recently published eLife article, Covarrubias et al. studied how activation of murine bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMDMs) by interleukin-4 (IL-4), a signaling cytokine, altered glucose metabolism in the cells and regulated a subset of genes involved in macrophage activation. Continue reading “Finding a Connection Between Glucose Metabolism and Macrophage Activation”
If, like me, you sometimes need more motivation to exercise consistently—even though you know that it is good for you—you may be interested in the findings of a paper published recently in PLOS Genetics. The paper showed that consistent exercise over a 6-month period caused potentially beneficial changes in gene expression. In short, regular exercise caused expression of some “good” genes, and repression of “bad” ones, and these changes appeared to be controlled by epigenetic mechanisms.
Epigenetic changes are modifications to DNA that affect gene expression but don’t alter the underlying sequence. Perhaps the best understood example of an epigenetic change is DNA methylation—where methyl groups bind to the DNA at specific sites and alter expression, often by preventing transcription. Epigenetic changes have been shown to occur throughout all stages of development and in response to environmental factors such as diet, toxin exposure, or stress. The study of epigenetics is revealing more and more about how the information stored in our DNA is expressed in different tissues at different times and under different environmental circumstances. Continue reading “Epigenetics and Exercise”