Doctor of Philosophy, Fudan University (2010)
Cornelia Weyand, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Autophagy is a protective and life-sustaining process in which cytoplasmic components are packaged into double-membrane vesicles and targeted to lysosomes for degradation. This process of cellular self-digestion is an essential stress response and is cytoprotective by removing damaged organelles and proteins that threaten the cell's survival. Key outcomes include energy generation and recycling of metabolic precursors. In the immune system, autophagy regulates processes such as antigen uptake and presentation, removal of pathogens, survival of short- and long-lived immune cells, and cytokine-dependent inflammation. In all cases, a window of optimal autophagic activity appears critical to balance catabolic, reparative, and inflammation-inducing processes. Dysregulation of autophagosome formation and autophagic flux can have deleterious consequences, ranging from a failure to "clean house" to the induction of autophagy-induced cell death. Abnormalities in the autophagic pathway have been implicated in numerous autoimmune diseases. Genome-wide association studies have linked polymorphisms in autophagy-related genes with predisposition for tissue-destructive inflammatory disease, specifically in inflammatory bowel disease and systemic lupus erythematosus. Although the precise mechanisms by which dysfunctional autophagy renders the host susceptible to continuous inflammation remain unclear, autophagy's role in regulating the long-term survival of adaptive immune cells has recently surfaced as a defect in multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Efforts are underway to identify autophagy-inducing and autophagy-suppressing pharmacologic interventions that can be added to immunosuppressive therapy to improve outcomes of patients with autoimmune disease.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s00109-015-1297-8
View details for Web of Science ID 000356530700002
View details for PubMedID 26054920
T lymphocytes, the master regulators of immunity, have an unusual lifestyle. Equipped with a clonally distributed receptor they remain resting for long periods of time but go into overdrive when encountering antigen. Antigen recognition triggers an activation program that results in massive proliferation, differentiation into effector/memory cells, egress from lymphoid storage sites, and production of an array of cytokines. To adapt to the sudden demand for energy and biosynthetic macromolecules, T cells resort to aerobic glycolysis, relying on the Warburg effect to provide sufficient ATP and precursor molecules. Metabolic adaptation to the biosynthetic needs includes upregulation of autophagy, a catabolic process resulting in the degradation of cytoplasmic contents. The close connection between a metabolic switch, proliferative expansion, and functional differentiation connects the metabolic conditions in the cell to normal and pathogenic immunity.
View details for DOI 10.4161/auto.27345
View details for PubMedID 24351650
With progressive age, the immune system and the propensity for abnormal immunity change fundamentally. Individuals greater than 50 years of age are not only more susceptible to infection and cancer, but also at higher risk for chronic inflammation and immune-mediated tissue damage. The process of immunosenescence is accelerated in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).Premature T-cell senescence occurs not only in RA, but also has been involved in morbidity and mortality of chronic HIV infection. Senescent cells acquire the 'senescence-associated secretory phenotype', which promotes and sustains tissue inflammation. Molecular mechanisms underlying T-cell aging are beginning to be understood. In addition to the contraction of T-cell diversity because of uneven clonal expansion, senescent T cells have defects in balancing cytoplasmic kinase and phosphatase activities, changing their activation thresholds. Also, leakiness in repairing DNA lesions and uncapped telomeres imposes genomic stress. Age-induced changes in the tissue microenvironment may alter the T-cell responses.Gain-of-function and loss-of-function in senescent T cells undermine protective immunity and create the conditions for chronic tissue inflammation, a combination typically encountered in RA. Genetic programs involved in T-cell signaling and DNA repair are of high interest in the search for underlying molecular defects.
View details for DOI 10.1097/BOR.0000000000000011
View details for Web of Science ID 000328818500014
View details for PubMedID 24296720
In the HLA class II-associated autoimmune syndrome rheumatoid arthritis (RA), CD4 T cells are critical drivers of pathogenic immunity. We have explored the metabolic activity of RA T cells and its impact on cellular function and fate. Naive CD4 T cells from RA patients failed to metabolize equal amounts of glucose as age-matched control cells, generated less intracellular ATP, and were apoptosis-susceptible. The defect was attributed to insufficient induction of 6-phosphofructo-2-kinase/fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase 3 (PFKFB3), a regulatory and rate-limiting glycolytic enzyme known to cause the Warburg effect. Forced overexpression of PFKFB3 in RA T cells restored glycolytic flux and protected cells from excessive apoptosis. Hypoglycolytic RA T cells diverted glucose toward the pentose phosphate pathway, generated more NADPH, and consumed intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS). PFKFB3 deficiency also constrained the ability of RA T cells to resort to autophagy as an alternative means to provide energy and biosynthetic precursor molecules. PFKFB3 silencing and overexpression identified a novel extraglycolytic role of the enzyme in autophagy regulation. In essence, T cells in RA patients, even those in a naive state, are metabolically reprogrammed with insufficient up-regulation of the glycolytic activator PFKFB3, rendering them energy-deprived, ROS- and autophagy-deficient, apoptosis-sensitive, and prone to undergo senescence.
View details for DOI 10.1084/jem.20130252
View details for Web of Science ID 000324813000018
View details for PubMedID 24043759
Immune aging is best known for its immune defects that increase susceptibility to infections and reduce adaptive immune responses to vaccination. In parallel, the aged immune system is prone to autoimmune responses and many autoimmune diseases increase in incidence with age or are even preferentially encountered in the elderly. Why an immune system that suboptimally responds to exogenous antigen fails to maintain tolerance to self-antigens appears to be perplexing. In this review, we will discuss age-associated deviations in the immune repertoire and the regulation of signaling pathways that may shed light on this conundrum.
View details for DOI 10.3389/fimmu.2013.00131
View details for PubMedID 23761790