Bilirubin neurotoxicity has been studied for decades and has been shown to affect various mechanisms via significant modulation of gene expression. This suggests that vital regulatory mechanisms of gene expression, such as epigenetic mechanisms, could play a role in bilirubin neurotoxicity. Histone acetylation has recently received attention in the CNS due to its role in gene modulation for numerous biological processes, such as synaptic plasticity, learning, memory, development and differentiation. Aberrant epigenetic regulation of gene expression in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders has also been described. In this work, we followed the levels of histone 3 lysine 14 acetylation (H3K14Ac) in the cerebellum (Cll) of the developing (2, 9, 17 days after the birth) and adult Gunn rat, the natural model for neonatal hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus. We observed an age-specific alteration of the H3K14Ac in the hyperbilirubinemic animals. The GeneOntology analysis of the H3K14Ac linked chromatin revealed that almost 45% of H3K14Ac ChiP-Seq TSS-promoter genes were involved in CNS development including maturation and differentiation, morphogenesis, dendritogenesis, and migration. These data suggest that the hallmark Cll hypoplasia in the Gunn rat occurs also via epigenetically controlled mechanisms during the maturation of this brain structure, unraveling a novel aspect of the bilirubin-induced neurotoxicity.
Although primary neuronal cells are routinely used for neuroscience research, with potential clinical applications such as neuronal transplantation and tissue engineering, a gold standard protocol for preservation has not been yet developed. In the present work, a slow cooling methodology without ice seeding was studied and optimized for cryopreservation of rat cerebellar granular cells. Parameters such as cooling rate, plunge temperature and cryoprotective agent concentration were assessed using a custom built device based on Pye's freezer idea. Cryopreservation outcome was evaluated by post thawing cell viability/viable cell yield and in culture viability over a period of 14 days. The best outcome was achieved when 10% of Me2SO as cryoprotective agent, a cooling rate of 3.1 ± 0.2 °C/min and a plunge temperature of -48.2 ± 1.5 °C were applied. The granular cells cryopreserved under these conditions exhibited a cell viability of 82.7 ± 2.7% and a viable cell yield of 28.6 ± 2.2%. Moreover, cell viability in culture remained above 50%, very similar to not cryopreserved cells (control). Our results also suggest that post-thaw viability (based on membrane integrity assays) not necessarily reflects the quality of the cryopreservation procedure and proper functionality tests must be carried out in order to optimize both post thaw viability/cell yield and in culture performance.
In the Crigler-Najjar type I syndrome, the genetic absence of efficient hepatic glucuronidation of unconjugated bilirubin (UCB) by the uridine 5'-diphospho-glucuronosyltransferase1A1 (UGT1A1) enzyme produces the rise of UCB level in blood. Its entry to central nervous system could generate toxicity and neurological damage, and even death. In the past years, a compensatory mechanism to liver glucuronidation has been indicated in the hepatic cytochromes P450 enzymes (Cyps) which are able to oxidize bilirubin. Cyps are expressed also in the central nervous system, the target of bilirubin toxicity, thus making them theoretically important to confer a protective activity toward bilirubin accumulation and neurotoxicity. We therefore investigated the functional induction (mRNA, EROD/MROD) and the ability to oxidize bilirubin of Cyp1A1, 1A2, and 2A3 in primary astrocytes cultures obtained from two rat brain region (cortex: Cx and cerebellum: Cll). We observed that Cyp1A1 was the Cyp isoform more easily induced by beta-naphtoflavone (βNF) in both Cx and Cll astrocytes, but oxidized bilirubin only after uncoupling by 3, 4,3',4'-tetrachlorobiphenyl (TCB). On the contrary, Cyp1A2 was the most active Cyp in bilirubin clearance without uncoupling, but its induction was confined only in Cx cells. Brain Cyp2A3 was not inducible. In conclusion, the exposure of astrocytes to βNF plus TCB significantly enhanced Cyp1A1 mediating bilirubin clearance, improving cell viability in both regions. These results may be a relevant groundwork for the manipulation of brain Cyps as a therapeutic approach in reducing bilirubin-induced neurological damage.
Severe hyperbilirubinemia causes neurological damage both in humans and rodents. The hyperbilirubinemic Gunn rat shows a marked cerebellar hypoplasia. More recently bilirubin ability to arrest the cell cycle progression in vascular smooth muscle, tumour cells, and, more importantly, cultured neurons has been demonstrated. However, the involvement of cell cycle perturbation in the development of cerebellar hypoplasia was never investigated before. We explored the effect of sustained spontaneous hyperbilirubinemia on cell cycle progression and apoptosis in whole cerebella dissected from 9 day old Gunn rat by Real Time PCR, Western blot and FACS analysis. The cerebellum of the hyperbilirubinemic Gunn rats exhibits an increased cell cycle arrest in the late G0/G1 phase (p < 0.001), characterized by a decrease in the protein expression of cyclin D1 (15%, p < 0.05), cyclin A/A1 (20 and 30%, p < 0.05 and 0.01, respectively) and cyclin dependent kinases2 (25%, p < 0.001). This was associated with a marked increase in the 18 kDa fragment of cyclin E (67%, p < 0.001) which amplifies the apoptotic pathway. In line with this was the increase of the cleaved form of Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (54%, p < 0.01) and active Caspase3 (two fold, p < 0.01). These data indicate that the characteristic cerebellar alteration in this developing brain structure of the hyperbilirubinemic Gunn rat may be partly due to cell cycle perturbation and apoptosis related to the high bilirubin concentration in cerebellar tissue mainly affecting granular cells. These two phenomena might be intimately connected.
Few data exist on regional brain bilirubin content in the neonatal period when acute bilirubin-induced neurologic damage (BIND) may occur, and no information is available on regional brain expression of cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (Cyps) that oxidize bilirubin. Bilirubin content was analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography and Cyp1a1, 1a2, and 2a3 mRNA expression was analyzed by quantitative PCR (qPCR) in cortex (Cx), cerebellum (Cll), superior colliculi (SC), and inferior colliculi (IC) of 17-d-old hyperbilirubinemic (jj) Gunn rat pups before and after administration of sulphadimethoxine to acutely displace bilirubin from plasma albumin. There was no difference in bilirubin content among brain regions in untreated rats. After intraperitoneal sulphadimethoxine, bilirubin content peaked at fourfold in Cx and SC at 1 h; but at 11- to 13-fold in Cll and IC at 24 h; returning to control levels at 72 h. The Cyp mRNA peaked at 30-70 times control at 1 h in Cx and SC, but at 3-9 times control at 24 h in Cll and IC. The close relationship in distinct brain regions between the extent of bilirubin accumulation and induction of mRNA of Cyps suggests Cyps may have a role in protecting selected brain areas from bilirubin neurotoxicity.
Crigler-Najjar type I (CNI) syndrome is a recessively inherited disorder characterized by severe unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia caused by uridine diphosphoglucuronosyltransferase 1A1 (UGT1A1) deficiency. The disease is lethal due to bilirubin-induced neurological damage unless phototherapy is applied from birth. However, treatment becomes less effective during growth, and liver transplantation is required. To investigate the pathophysiology of the disease and therapeutic approaches in mice, we generated a mouse model by introducing a premature stop codon in the UGT1a1 gene, which results in an inactive enzyme. Homozygous mutant mice developed severe jaundice soon after birth and died within 11 d, showing significant cerebellar alterations. To rescue neonatal lethality, newborns were injected with a single dose of adeno-associated viral vector 9 (AAV9) expressing the human UGT1A1. Gene therapy treatment completely rescued all AAV-treated mutant mice, accompanied by lower plasma bilirubin levels and normal brain histology and motor coordination. Our mouse model of CNI reproduces genetic and phenotypic features of the human disease. We have shown, for the first time, the full recovery of the lethal effects of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. We believe that, besides gene-addition-based therapies, our mice could represent a very useful model to develop and test novel technologies based on gene correction by homologous recombination.
Moderate neonatal jaundice is the most common clinical condition during newborn life. However, a combination of factors may result in acute hyperbilirubinemia, placing infants at risk of developing bilirubin encephalopathy and death by kernicterus. While most risk factors are known, the mechanisms acting to reduce susceptibility to bilirubin neurotoxicity remain unclear. The presence of modifier genes modulating the risk of developing bilirubin-induced brain damage is increasingly being recognised. The Abcb1 and Abcc1 members of the ABC family of transporters have been suggested to have an active role in exporting unconjugated bilirubin from the central nervous system into plasma. However, their role in reducing the risk of developing neurological damage and death during neonatal development is still unknown.To this end, we mated Abcb1a/b-/- and Abcc1-/- strains with Ugt1-/- mice, which develop severe neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. While about 60% of Ugt1-/- mice survived after temporary phototherapy, all Abcb1a/b-/-/Ugt1-/- mice died before postnatal day 21, showing higher cerebellar levels of unconjugated bilirubin. Interestingly, Abcc1 role appeared to be less important.In the cerebellum of Ugt1-/- mice, hyperbilirubinemia induced the expression of Car and Pxr nuclear receptors, known regulators of genes involved in the genotoxic response.We demonstrated a critical role of Abcb1 in protecting the cerebellum from bilirubin toxicity during neonatal development, the most clinically relevant phase for human babies, providing further understanding of the mechanisms regulating bilirubin neurotoxicity in vivo. Pharmacological treatments aimed to increase Abcb1 and Abcc1 expression, could represent a therapeutic option to reduce the risk of bilirubin neurotoxicity.
All pre-term newborns and a high proportion of term newborns develop neonatal jaundice. Neonatal jaundice is usually a benign condition and self-resolves within few days after birth. However, a combination of unfavorable complications may lead to acute hyperbilirubinemia. Excessive hyperbilirubinemia may be toxic for the developing nervous system leading to severe neurological damage and death by kernicterus. Survivors show irreversible neurological deficits such as motor, sensitive and cognitive abnormalities. Current therapies rely on the use of phototherapy and, in unresponsive cases, exchange transfusion, which is performed only in specialized centers. During bilirubin-induced neurotoxicity different molecular pathways are activated, ranging from oxidative stress to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response and inflammation, but the contribution of each pathway in the development of the disease still requires further investigation. Thus, to increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of bilirubin neurotoxicity, encephalopathy and kernicterus, we pharmacologically modulated neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation in a lethal mouse model of neonatal hyperbilirubinemia. Treatment of mutant mice with minocycline, a second-generation tetracycline with anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, resulted in a dose-dependent rescue of lethality, due to reduction of neurodegeneration and neuroinflammation, without affecting plasma bilirubin levels. In particular, rescued mice showed normal motor-coordination capabilities and behavior, as determined by the accelerating rotarod and open field tests, respectively. From the molecular point of view, rescued mice showed a dose-dependent reduction in apoptosis of cerebellar neurons and improvement of dendritic arborization of Purkinje cells. Moreover, we observed a decrease of bilirubin-induced M1 microglia activation at the sites of damage with a reduction in oxidative and ER stress markers in these cells. Collectively, these data indicate that neurodegeneration and neuro-inflammation are key factors of bilirubin-induced neonatal lethality and neuro-behavioral abnormalities. We propose that the application of pharmacological treatments having anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects, to be used in combination with the current treatments, may significantly improve the management of acute neonatal hyperbilirubinemia, protecting from bilirubin-induced neurological damage and death.