Taurine week #6: Stress

Two 2022 rodent studies of taurine’s associations with long-term stress, starting with a chronic restraint stress model:

“We show that chronic restraint stress can lead to hyperalgesia accompanied by changes in gut microbiota that have significant gender differences. Corresponding changes of bacteria can further induce hyperalgesia and affect different serum metabolism in mice of the corresponding sex.

Different serum metabolites between pseudo-germ-free mice receiving fecal microbiota transplantation from the chronic restraint stress group and those from the control group were mainly involved in bile secretion and steroid hormone biosynthesis for male mice, and in taurine and hypotaurine metabolism and tryptophan metabolism for female mice.

Effects of gut microbiota transplantation on serum metabolomics of female host: Taurine and hypotaurine metabolism, tryptophan metabolism, serotonergic synapse, arachidonic acid metabolism, and choline metabolism in cancer were the five identified pathways in which these different metabolites were enriched.

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Taurine and hypotaurine play essential roles in anti-inflammation, anti-hypertension, anti-hyperglycemia, and analgesia. Taurine can be used as a diagnostic index for fibromyalgia syndrome and neuropathic pain.

These findings improve our understanding of sexual dimorphism in gut microbiota in stress-induced hyperalgesia and the effect of gut microbiota on blood metabolic traits. Follow-up research will investigate causal relationships between them.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043661822000743 “Gut microbiota and its role in stress-induced hyperalgesia: Gender-specific responses linked to different changes in serum metabolites”

Human equivalents:

  • A 7-8 month-old mouse would be a 38-42 year-old human.
  • A 14-day stress period is about two years for humans.

A second study used a chronic social defeat stress model:

“The level of taurine in extracellular fluid of the cerebral medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) was significantly reduced in mice with chronic social defeat stress (CSDS)-induced depression. We found that taurine supplementation effectively rescued immobility time during a tail suspension assay and improved social avoidance behaviors in CSDS mice.

Male C57BL/6 J mice (∼ 23 g) and male CD-1 mice aged 7–8 months (∼ 45 g) were used. CD-1 mice were screened for aggressive behavior during social interactions for three consecutive days before the start of the social defeat sessions. Experimental C57BL/6 J mice were subjected to physical interactions with a novel CD-1 mouse for 10 min once per day over 10 consecutive days.

We found significant reductions in taurine and betaine levels in mPFC interstitial fluid of CSDS mice compared with control mice.

csds taurine betaine

We additionally investigated levels of interstitial taurine in chronic restraint stress (CRS) mice, another depressive animal model. After 14 days of CRS treatment, mice showed typical depression-like behaviors, including decreased sucrose preference and increased immobility time. mPFC levels of interstitial taurine were also significantly decreased in CRS mice.

Taurine treatment protected CSDS mice from impairments in dendritic complexity, spine density, and proportions of different types of spines. Expression of N-methyl D-aspartate receptor subunit 2A, an important synaptic receptor, was largely restored in the mPFC of these mice after taurine supplementation.

These results demonstrated that taurine exerted an antidepressive effect by protecting cortical neurons from dendritic spine loss and synaptic protein deficits.”

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10571-022-01218-3 “Taurine Alleviates Chronic Social Defeat Stress-Induced Depression by Protecting Cortical Neurons from Dendritic Spine Loss”

Human equivalents:

  • A 7-8 month-old mouse would be a 38-42 year-old human.
  • A 500 mg/kg taurine dose injected intraperitoneally is (.081 x 500 mg) x 70KG = 2.835 g.
  • A 10-day stress period is about a year and a half for humans.

Don’t think aggressive humans would have to be twice as large to stress those around them. There may be choices other than enduring a year and a half of that.

Taurine week #5: Blood

Two 2022 papers investigated taurine’s effects in blood, starting with a review of platelets:

“Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in the human body, with a six times higher concentration in platelets than any other amino acid. It is highly beneficial for the organism, has many therapeutic actions, and is currently approved for heart failure treatment in Japan. Only the lack of large-scale phase 3 clinical trials restricts taurine use as a therapeutic agent in several other pathologies for treatment of which it has been shown to be effective (hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic diseases, e.g., diabetes mellitus, and others).

Because taurine was seen as a non-patentable nutrient, the pharmaceutical industry has not shown much interest in its research. Considering that taurine and its analogues display permissible side effects, along with the need of finding new, alternative antithrombotic drugs with minimal side effects and long-term action, the potential clinical relevance of this fascinating nutrient and its derivatives requires further consideration.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/11/3/666/htm “Taurine and Its Derivatives: Analysis of the Inhibitory Effect on Platelet Function and Their Antithrombotic Potential”

Figure 1 provided details of taurine and its derivatives’ effects on various processes involved in platelet activation and aggregation.


A second paper was a rodent study:

“To evaluate chronic effects of taurine on cholesterol levels, we analyzed mice fed a taurine-rich diet for 14–16 weeks. Long-term feeding of taurine lowered plasma cholesterol and bile acids without significantly changing other metabolic parameters, but hardly affected these levels in the liver.

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Taurine upregulates transcriptional activity of Cyp7a1 by suppressing FGF21 production in the liver. Bile acids are converted from blood cholesterol by CYP7A1, and more efficiently enter enterohepatic circulation via taurine conjugation.

This study shows that long-term feeding of taurine lowers both plasma cholesterol and bile acids, reinforcing that taurine effectively prevents hypercholesterolemia.”

https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/23/3/1793/htm “Long-Term Dietary Taurine Lowers Plasma Levels of Cholesterol and Bile Acids”

A human equivalent of this male C57BL/6J mouse 16-week taurine intervention is roughly 17 years. That strain’s male maximum lifespan is around 800 days, and human maximum lifespan is currently 122.5 years.


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The oligosaccharide stachyose

Two 2022 stachyose papers to follow on to Don’t take Beano if you’re stressed, which studied raffinose. Stachyose is in the raffinose oligosaccharide group with similar characteristics, and its content is usually larger in legumes. First is a rodent study:

“Stress can activate the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and elevate glucocorticoids in the body (cortisol in humans and corticosterone in rodents). Glucocorticoid receptors are abundant in the hippocampus, and play an important role in stress-induced cognition alteration.

Corticosterone is often used to model cognitive impairment induced by stress. Long-term potentiation (LTP) deficit and cognitive impairment always coexist in stress models, and LTP impairment is often considered as one mechanism for stress-induced cognitive deficits.

N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors play critical roles both in normal synaptic functions and excitotoxicity in the central nervous system. D-serine, a coactivator of NMDA receptors, plays an important role in brain function.

In this study, we focused on effects of stachyose, on LTP impairment by corticosterone, gut flora, and the D-serine pathway.

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Data in this study showed that 7-consecutive-day intragastric (i.g.) administration of stachyose had protective effect. There was little effect via intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) and intraperitoneal (i.p.) administration.

To disturb gut flora, a combination of non-absorbable antibiotics (ATB) were applied. Results showed that ATB canceled the protective effect of stachyose without affecting LTP in control and corticosterone-treated mice, suggesting that stachyose may display its protective effects against LTP impairment by corticosterone via gut flora.

Further study is needed to uncover the relation between gut flora and the D-serine metabolic pathway.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2022.799244/full “Stachyose Alleviates Corticosterone-Induced Long-Term Potentiation Impairment via the Gut–Brain Axis”

One of this study’s references was Eat oats and regain cognitive normalcy.


A stachyose clinical trial is expected to complete this month:

“In the stachyose intervention group, each person took 5 g of stachyose daily before breakfast. Administration method was 100 ml of drinking water dissolved and taken orally for two months. Each person in the placebo control group took the same amount of maltodextrin daily. Stool samples of the 36 subjects were collected weekly.

Primary outcome measures:

  1. Expression of microRNA; and
  2. Structure of gut microbiota.”

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT05392348 “Regulatory Effect of Stachyose on Gut Microbiota and microRNA Expression in Human”


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Gut microbiota knowledge through 2021

I’ll curate this 2022 review of what’s known and unknown about our trillions of gut microbiota through its topic headings:

“Most microbial taxa and species of the human microbiome are still unknown. Without revealing the identity of these microbes as a first step, we cannot appreciate their role in human health and diseases.

A. Understanding the Microbiome Composition and Factors That Shape Its Diversity
Effect of Diet Composition on the Microbiome Diversity

  • Macronutrients and Microbiome Diversity
  • Nutrient and Mineral Supplements and Microbiome Diversity

Stress

Drugs

Race and Host Genetics

Aging

Lifestyle

  • Exercise
  • Smoking
  • Urbanization

B. Understanding the Microbiome Function and Its Association With Onset and Progression of Many Diseases

Microbiome Association With Inflammatory and Metabolic Disorders

  • Chronic Inflammation in GIT and Beyond
  • Development of Malignant Tumors
  • Obesity
  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Respiratory Diseases

Microbiome Role in Psychiatric, Behavioral, and Emotional Disorders

C. Understanding the Microbiome Function as Mediated by Secreted Molecules

D. Conclusion and Future Directions – A pioneering study aimed to computationally predict functions of microbes on earth estimates the presence of 35.5 million functions in bacteria of which only 0.02% are known. Our knowledge of its functions and how they mediate health and diseases is preliminary.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2022.825338 “Recent Advances in Understanding the Structure and Function of the Human Microbiome”


I took another test last month at the 14-month point of treating my gut microbiota better. Compared with the 7-month top level measurements, what stood out was an increase in relative abundance from 1% to 7% in the Verrucomicrophia phylum that pretty much exclusively comprises species Akkermansia muciniphilia in humans:

top 5 phylum 2-2022

This review termed Akkermansia muciniphilia relative increases as beneficial. Go with the Alzheimer’s Disease evidence didn’t.

Preventing human infections with dietary fibers inferred that insufficient dietary fiber may disproportionately increase abundance of this species. But I already eat much more fiber than our human ancestors’ estimated 100 grams of fiber every day, so lack of fiber definitely didn’t cause this relative increase.

Resistant starch therapy observed:

“Relative abundances of smaller keystone communities (e.g. primary degraders) may increase, but appear to decrease simply because cross-feeders increase in relative abundance to a greater extent.”

I’ll wait for further evidence while taking responsibility for my own one precious life.

Didn’t agree with this review’s statements regarding microbial associations with fear. These reviewers framed such associations as if gut microbiota in the present had stronger influences on an individual’s fear responses than did any of the individual’s earlier experiences. No way.

I came across this review by it citing The microbiome: An emerging key player in aging and longevity, which was Reference 25 of Dr. Paul Clayton’s blog post What are You Thinking?

Also didn’t agree with some of the doctor’s post:

  • Heterochronic parabiosis of young and old animals is wildly different from fecal transfer. Can’t really compare them to any level of detail.
  • Using a rodent young-to-old fecal microbiota transplant study to imply the same effects would happen in humans? Humans don’t live in controlled environments, so why would a young human individual’s gut microbiota necessarily have healthier effects than an old individual’s?
  • Another example was the penultimate paragraph: “By adding a mix of prebiotic fibers to your diet and maintaining a more youthful and less inflammatory microbiome you will have less inflammation, less endotoxaemia and less inflammageing. You will therefore live healthier and longer.” I’m okay with the first sentence. Equivalating the first sentence to both healthspan and lifespan increases in the second sentence wasn’t supported by any of the 45 cited references.

Signaling pathways and disordered proteins

This 2022 review explored the title subject:

“Cell signaling imposes many demands on proteins that comprise these pathways, including abilities to form active and inactive states, and to engage in multiple protein interactions. Signaling often requires amplifying signals, regulating or tuning responses to signals, combining information sourced from multiple pathways, all while ensuring process fidelity.

Sensitivity, adaptability, and tunability are possible, in part, due to inclusion of intrinsically disordered regions in many proteins involved in cell signaling.  This review highlights the critical role of intrinsically disordered proteins for signaling:

  • In widely diverse organisms (animals, plants, bacteria, fungi);
  • In every category of cell signaling pathway (autocrine, juxtacrine, intracrine, paracrine, and endocrine); and
  • At each stage (ligand, receptor, transducer, effector, terminator) in the cell signaling process.

Function of the glucocorticoid receptor is regulated in part by its intrinsically disordered C-terminal tail. Prior to activation, the glucocorticoid receptor resides in cytosol:

glucocorticoid receptor

Intrinsic disorder in the glucocorticoid receptor not only enables multiple allosteric regulatory interactions to impact function, but also allows deployment of different surfaces of the protein to enable binding to many different sets of macromolecules, and regulation of these interactions via mRNA splicing and phosphorylation.

Combinations of alternative translation initiation and alternative mRNA splicing result in production of multiple glucocorticoid receptor isoforms from one gene. Various isoforms exhibit distinctive tissue distribution patterns and altered transcriptional regulatory profiles.

Greater than 90% of transcription factors either contain intrinsically disordered regions of proteins or are entirely intrinsically disordered. The many advantages conferred by disorder to cell signaling cascades means that:

  1. Understanding signaling required definition of roles disorder plays in each pathway;
  2. Many more examples of disordered proteins in cell signaling pathways are likely to be discovered; and
  3. More mechanisms by which disorder functions remain to be elucidated.”

https://biosignaling.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12964-022-00821-7 “Intrinsically disordered proteins play diverse roles in cell signaling”


Cells in vivo seldom act on their own impetus. I would have liked discussion – or at least mention – of bidirectional signals between genes / cells / tissues / organs / organism / environment. This review’s topic of cell signaling pathways excluded “interactions of complex, interconnected systems spanning hierarchical levels” as explored in An environmental signaling paradigm of aging.

Eat broccoli sprouts for depression, Part 2

Here are three papers that cited last year’s Part 1. First is a 2021 rodent study investigating a microRNA’s pro-depressive effects:

“Depressive rat models were established via chronic unpredicted mild stress (CUMS) treatment. Cognitive function of rats was assessed by a series of behavioral tests.

Nrf2 CUMS

Nrf2 was weakly expressed in CUMS-treated rats, whereas Nrf2 upregulation alleviated cognitive dysfunction and brain inflammatory injury.

Nrf2 inhibited miR-17-5p expression via binding to the miR-17-5p promoter. miR-17-5p was also found to limit wolfram syndrome 1 (Wfs1) transcription.

We found that Nrf2 inhibited miR-17-5p expression and promoted Wfs1 transcription, thereby alleviating cognitive dysfunction and inflammatory injury in rats with depression-like behaviors. We didn’t investigate the role of Nrf2 in other depression models (chronic social stress model and chronic restraint stress model) and important brain regions other than hippocampus, such as prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. Accordingly, other depression models and brain regions need to be designed and explored to further validate the role of Nrf2 in depression in future studies.”

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10753-021-01554-4 “Nrf2 Alleviates Cognitive Dysfunction and Brain Inflammatory Injury via Mediating Wfs1 in Rats with Depression‑Like Behaviors” (not freely available)

This study demonstrated that activating the Nrf2 pathway inhibited brain inflammation, cognitive dysfunction, and depression. Would modulating one microRNA and one gene in vivo without Nrf2 activation achieve similar results?


A 2021 review focused on the immune system’s role in depression:

“Major depressive disorder is one of the most common psychiatric illnesses. The mean age of patients with this disorder is 30.4 years, and the prevalence is twice higher in women than in men.

Activation of inflammatory pathways in the brain is considered to be an important producer of excitotoxicity and oxidative stress inducer that contributes to neuronal damage seen in the disorder. This activation is mainly due to pro-inflammatory cytokines activating the tryptophan-kynurenine (KP) pathway in microglial cells and astrocytes.

Elevated levels of cortisol exert an inhibitory feedback mechanism on its receptors in the hippocampus and hypothalamus, stopping stimulation of these structures to restore balance. When this balance is disrupted, hypercortisolemia directly stimulates extrahepatic enzyme 2,3-indolimine dioxygenase (IDO) located in various tissues (intestine, placenta, liver, and brain) and immune system macrophages and dendritic cells.

Elevation of IDO activities causes metabolism of 99% of available tryptophan in the KP pathway, substantially reducing serotonin synthesis, and producing reactive oxygen species and nitrogen radicals. The excitotoxicity generated produces tissue lesions, and activates the inflammatory response.”

https://academic.oup.com/ijnp/article/25/1/46/6415265 “Inflammatory Process and Immune System in Major Depressive Disorder”

This review highlighted that stress via cortisol and IDO may affect the brain and other parts of the body.


A 2022 review elaborated on Part 1’s findings of MeCP2 as a BDNF inhibitor:

“Methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) is a transcriptional regulator that is highly abundant in the brain. It binds to methylated genomic DNA to regulate a range of physiological functions implicated in neuronal development and adult synaptic plasticity.

Ability to cope with stressors relies upon activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis. MeCP2 has been shown to contribute to early life stress-dependent epigenetic programming of genes that enhance HPA-axis activity.

We describe known functions of MeCP2 as an epigenetic regulator, and provide evidence for its role in modulating synaptic plasticity via transcriptional regulation of BDNF or other proteins involved in synaptogenesis and synaptic strength like reelin. We conclude that MeCP2 is a promising target for development of novel, more efficacious therapeutics for treatment of stress-related disorders such as depression.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4409/11/4/748/htm “The Role of MeCP2 in Regulating Synaptic Plasticity in the Context of Stress and Depression”


Osprey lunch

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Your lungs and Nrf2 activity

Two 2021 papers of Nrf2 activation effects on lung diseases, with the first a McGill University review:

“Oxidative stress and subsequent activation of Nrf2 have been demonstrated in many human respiratory diseases. The purpose of this review is to summarize involvement of Nrf2 and its inducers in acute respiratory distress syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and lung fibrosis in both human and experimental models.

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These inducers have proven particularly effective at reducing severity of oxidative stress-driven lung injury in various animal models. In humans, these compounds offer promise as potential therapeutic strategies for management of respiratory pathologies associated with oxidative stress, but there is thus far little evidence of efficacy through human trials.

Perhaps, by analogy with biologics, patients with demonstrated deficient antioxidant responses to their disease should be selected for study in future clinical trials.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2021.727806/full “Role of Nrf2 in Disease: Novel Molecular Mechanisms and Therapeutic Approaches – Pulmonary Disease/Asthma”


A second paper was a human/rodent study of COPD:

“We investigated Nrf2 expression and epigenetic regulation, and mechanisms by which the Nrf2 signaling pathway in ferroptosis is related to COPD. These findings elucidated pathways of ferroptosis in bronchial epithelial cells in COPD, and revealed Nrf2 as a potential target for COPD treatment.

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DNA hypermethylation at specific CpG sites of the Nrf2 promoter in primary epithelial cells and in clinical lung tissues is correlated with decreased Nrf2 expression, which is related to COPD occurrence and development.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8684379/ “Hypermethylation of the Nrf2 Promoter Induces Ferroptosis by Inhibiting the Nrf2-GPX4 Axis in COPD”


Similar to this second paper’s CpG findings, Eat broccoli sprouts for your heart found:

“Sulforaphane (SFN) reduced Ang II‐induced CpG hypermethylation and promoted Ac‐H3 [histone H3 acetylation] accumulation in the Nrf2 promoter region, accompanied by inhibition of global DNMT [DNA methyltransferase] and HDAC [histone deacetylase] activity, and a decreased protein expression of key DNMT and HDAC enzymes. Overall, DNA methylation and histone deacetylation are considered to inhibit gene transcription with a synergistic effect.

Nrf2 can also be regulated independently of Keap1. Evidence indicates that SFN may indirectly activate Nrf2 by affecting activity of several upstream kinases.”

However, this second paper didn’t measure DNMT and HDAC inhibition, although their therapeutic effects in reducing oxidative injury and inflammation may have been present.

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Offspring brain effects from maternal adversity

This 2021 rodent study investigated conception through weaning effects on offspring from stressing their mothers:

“We investigated consequences of two prenatal insults, prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and food-related stress, on DNA methylation profiles of the rat brain during early development. We analyzed patterns in prefrontal cortex, a key brain region involved in cognition, executive function, and behavior, of both males and females, and found sex-dependent and sex-concordant influences of these insults.

The pair-fed (PF) group in the PAE model is a standard control for effects of alcohol in reducing food intake. However, compared to the PAE group that, albeit eating less, eats ad libitum, pair-feeding is a treatment in itself, with PF dams receiving a restricted ration, which results in both hunger and a disrupted feeding schedule. These stress-related effects could potentially parallel or model food scarcity or food insecurity in human populations.

We observed more DMRs (Differentially Methylated Regions) that showed decreased DNAm rather than increased DNAm in PF animals, suggesting that food-related stress may interfere with one-carbon metabolism and the pathways that deposit methylation on DNA. We also identified a sex-concordant DMR that showed decreased DNAm in PF animals in the glucocorticoid receptor Nr3c1, which plays a key role in stress responsivity and may reflect a reprogramming of the stress response.

This result is in line with previous studies that have shown that pair-feeding is a considerable stressor on dams, with lasting consequences on development, behavior, and physiology of their offspring. Altered DNAm of this key HPA axis gene may reflect broader alterations to stress response systems, which may in turn, influence programming of numerous physiological systems linked to the stress response, including immune function, metabolic processes, and circadian rhythms.

In PAE and PF animals compared to controls, we identified 26 biological pathways that were enriched in females, including those involved in cellular stress and metabolism, and 10 biological pathways enriched in males, which were mainly involved in metabolic processes. These findings suggest that PAE and restricted feeding, both of which act in many respects as prenatal stressors, may influence some common biological pathways, which may explain some of the occasional overlap between their resulting phenotypes.

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This study highlights the complex network of neurobiological pathways that respond to prenatal adversity/stressors and that modulate differential effects of early life insults on functional and health outcomes. Study of these exposures provides a unique opportunity to investigate sex-specific effects of prenatal adversity on epigenetic patterns, as possible biological mechanisms underlying sex-specific responses to prenatal insults are understudied and remain largely unknown.”

https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4425/12/11/1773/htm “Prenatal Adversity Alters the Epigenetic Profile of the Prefrontal Cortex: Sexually Dimorphic Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Food-Related Stress”


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The impact of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance and early life experiences

A 2021 interview with McGill University’s Moshe Szyf:

There is a rejection of transgenerational inheritance as it goes against progressive thinking because it ties us to previous generations. The theory faces rejection because it sounds deterministic.

But if you understand what epigenetics is, it’s not deterministic. There is stability, and there’s also room for dynamic change.

The only way things change in the body for the long term is via epigenetics. We don’t know everything yet, new discoveries are yet to happen, and then we will just say, ‘Wow, it’s so obvious!’

The immune system is tightly connected to the brain and is directly affected by early adversity. Even though we will not be able to learn what’s going on in the brain, as far as epigenetics in living people, we will gain a lot of information from how the immune system responds to early adversity, and how this is correlated with behavioral phenotype and with mental health.

This brings into question the whole field of neuroimmunology, of which there is a lot of data. But it seems that a lot of psychiatrists are totally oblivious to these data, which is astounding, because the glucocorticoid hormone – the major player in this mechanism due to its involvement in early life stress as well as control of behavior – also controls immune function.

Nobody can live long enough to oversee a human transgenerational study. In humans, correlations are usually in peripheral tissue, where changes are small. The jury’s not out yet, but if evolution used it for so many different organisms, some of which are very close to us in the evolutionary ladder, it’s impossible that humans don’t use it.

How are current findings in animal models relevant to humans? How do we develop human paradigms that will allow us to achieve a higher level of evidence than what we have now?

  • One way is the immune-inflammatory connection to other diseases. I think this is where the secret of epigenetic aging lies, as well as epigenetics of other diseases.
  • Every disease is connected to the immune system. The brain translates the behavioral environment to the immune system, and then the immune system sends chemical signals across the body to respond to these challenges.

We need to understand that epigenetic programs are a network. Move beyond candidate genes, understand the concept of a network, and really understand the challenge: Reset the epigenetic network.

Epigenetics is going to be rapidly translated to better predictors, better therapeutics, and more interesting therapeutics. Not necessarily the traditional drug modeled against a crystal structure of an enzyme, but a more networked approach. Ideas about early life stress are critical and have impacted the field of childcare by highlighting the importance of early childhood relationships.”

https://www.futuremedicine.com/doi/10.2217/epi-2021-0483 “The epigenetics of early life adversity and trauma inheritance: an interview with Moshe Szyf”


Natural products vs. neurodegenerative diseases

I was recently asked about taking rapamycin for its effects on mTOR. I replied that diet could do the same thing. Here’s a 2021 review outlining such effects:

“As common, progressive, and chronic causes of disability and death, neurodegenerative diseases (NDDs) significantly threaten human health, while no effective treatment is available. Recent studies have revealed the role of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt (Protein kinase B)/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) in some diseases and natural products with therapeutic potentials.

Growing evidence highlights the dysregulated PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway and interconnected mediators in pathogenesis of NDDs. Side effects and drug-resistance of conventional neuroprotective agents urge the need for providing alternative therapies.

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Polyphenols, alkaloids, carotenoids, and terpenoids have shown to be capable of a great modulation of PI3K/Akt/mTOR in NDDs. Natural products potentially target various important oxidative/inflammatory/apoptotic/autophagic molecules/mediators, such as Bax, Bcl-2, p53, caspase-3, caspase-9, NF-κB, TNF-α, GSH, SOD, MAPK, GSK-3β, Nrf2/HO-1, JAK/STAT, CREB/BDNF, ERK1/2, and LC3 towards neuroprotection.

This is the first systematic and comprehensive review with a simultaneous focus on the critical role of PI3K/Akt/mTOR in NDDs and associated targeting by natural products.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0944711321002075 “Natural products attenuate PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling pathway: A promising strategy in regulating neurodegeneration” (not freely available) Thanks to Dr. Sajad Fakhri for providing a copy.


Natural products mentioned in this review that I eat in everyday foods are listed below. The most effective ones are broccoli and red cabbage sprouts, and oats and oat sprouts:

  • Artichokes – luteolin;
  • Blackberries – anthocyanins;
  • Blueberries – anthocyanins, gallic acid, pterostilbene;
  • Broccoli and red cabbage sprouts – anthocyanins, kaempferol, luteolin, quercetin, sulforaphane;
  • Carrots – carotenoids;
  • Celery – apigenin, luteolin;
  • Green tea – epigallocatechin gallate;
  • Oats and oat sprouts – avenanthramides;
  • Strawberries – anthocyanins, fisetin;
  • Tomatoes – fisetin.

Four humpback whales

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All about vasopressin

This 2021 review subject was vasopressin:

“Vasopressin is a ubiquitous molecule playing an important role in a wide range of physiological processes, thereby implicated in pathomechanisms of many disorders. The most striking is its central effect in stress-axis regulation, as well as regulating many aspects of our behavior.

Arginine-vasopressin (AVP) is a nonapeptide that is synthesized mainly in the supraoptic, paraventricular (PVN), and suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. AVP cell groups of hypothalamus and midbrain were found to be glutamatergic, whereas those in regions derived from cerebral nuclei were mainly GABAergic.

In the PVN, AVP can be found together with corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), the main hypothalamic regulator of the HPA axis. The AVPergic system participates in regulation of several physiological processes, from stress hormone release through memory formation, thermo- and pain regulation, to social behavior.

vasopressin stress axis

AVP determines behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and participates in development of social interactions, aggression, reproduction, parental behavior, and belonging. Alterations in AVPergic tone may be implicated in pathology of stress-related disorders (anxiety and depression), Alzheimer’s, posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as schizophrenia.

An increasing body of evidence confirms epigenetic contribution to changes in AVP or AVP receptor mRNA level, not only during the early perinatal period, but also in adulthood:

  • DNA methylation is more targeted on a single gene; and it is better characterized in relation to AVP;
  • Some hint for bidirectional interaction with histone acetylation was also described; and
  • miRNAs are implicated in the hormonal, peripheral role of AVP, and less is known about their interaction regarding behavioral alteration.”

https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/22/17/9415/htm “Epigenetic Modulation of Vasopressin Expression in Health and Disease”


Find your way, regardless of what the herd does.

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Blood pressure and pain

A trio of papers, with the second and third citing a 2013 review:

“The relationship between pain and hypertension is potentially of great pathophysiological and clinical interest, but is poorly understood. Perception of acute pain initially plays an adaptive role, which results in prevention of tissue damage.

The consequence of ascending nociception is recruitment of segmental spinal reflexes through physiological neuronal connections:

  • In proportion to magnitude and duration of the stimulus, these spinal reflexes cause sympathetic nervous system activation, which increases peripheral resistances, heart rate, and stroke volume; and
  • The response also involves the neuroendocrine system, in particular, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, in addition to further activation of the sympathetic system by adrenal glands.

Persistent pain tends to become chronic and to increase BP values. After a long time, dysfunction of release of endogenous opioids results in a reduction of their analgesic effect. A vicious circle is established, where further pain leads to a reduction in pain tolerance, associated with decreased analgesia mediated by baroreceptors, in a kind of process of exhaustion.”

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jch.12145 “The Relationship Between Blood Pressure and Pain”


A second paper was a 2021 human experimental pain study:

“We investigated the effectiveness of physiological signals for automatic pain intensity estimation that can either substitute for, or complement patients’ self-reported information. Results indicate that for both subject-independent and subject-dependent scenarios, electrodermal activity (EDA) – which is also referred to as skin conductance (SC) or galvanic skin response – was the best signal for pain intensity estimation.

EDA gave mean absolute error (MAE) = 0.93 using only 3 time-series features:

  1. Time intervals between successive extreme events above the mean;
  2. Time intervals between successive extreme events below the mean; and
  3. Exponential fit to successive distances in 2-dimensional embedding space.

Although we obtained good results using 22 EDA features, we further explored to see if we could reach similar or better results with fewer EDA features. This plot highlights that by considering only the top 3 features, we obtained the same level of performance given by all 22 features together.

journal.pone.0254108.g002

This is the first study that achieved less than 1-unit error for continuous pain intensity estimation using only one physiological sensor’s 3 time-series feature, and a Support Vector Regression machine learning model. Considering that this is an encouraging result, we can estimate objective pain using only the EDA sensor, which needs neither a complex setup nor a complex computationally intense machine learning algorithm.

This study paves the way for developing a smart pain measurement wearable device that can change the quality of pain management significantly.”

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254108 “Exploration of physiological sensors, features, and machine learning models for pain intensity estimation”


A third paper was a 2020 human rotator cuff surgery study:

“Results of our study demonstrated that:

  • Pain during the early postoperative period;
  • Time until occurrence of a retear; and
  • Existence of hypertension

were correlated with severity of pain in patients with a retorn rotator cuff.

Pain was selected as the sole outcome parameter of this study because:

  • Pain is an important factor that compels patients to seek treatment for rotator cuff tears, along with functional disability;
  • Pain and subjective functional deficits are important factors that influence a surgeon’s decision to continue with treatment in cases of retearing; and
  • Analyzing pain severity can be a good way to determine patients’ overall satisfaction after rotator cuff repair.

However, pain is not always correlated with disease severity or tear size and vice versa. A lack of pain does not necessarily depend on integrity of the repaired tendon or constitute a good prognosis. In fact, patients with partial-thickness rotator cuff tears showed more pain than did those with full-thickness tears.

Existence of hypertension had a proportional relationship with pain at 12 months postoperatively in patients with retears. This can be interpreted as a suggestion that pain in patients with retears is not acute, but rather chronic, and may be connected to pain in the early postoperative period at 3 months. However, results of this study cannot explain benefits of controlling hypertension in alleviating pain in patients with retears.”

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2325967120947414 “Factors Related to Pain in Patients With Retorn Rotator Cuffs: Early Postoperative Pain Predicts Pain at 12 Months Postoperatively”


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Gut and brain health

This 2021 human review subject was interactions of gut health and disease with brain health and disease:

“Actions of microbial metabolites are key for appropriate gut-brain communication in humans. Among these metabolites, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), tryptophan, and bile acid metabolites / pathways show strong preclinical evidence for involvement in various aspects of brain function and behaviour.

Dietary fibres, proteins, and fats ingested by the host contain components which are metabolized by microbiota. SCFAs are produced from fermentation of fibres, and tryptophan-kynurenine (TRP-KYN) metabolites from dietary proteins. Primary bile acids derived from liver metabolism aid in lipid digestion, but can be deconjugated and bio-transformed into secondary bile acids.

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One of the greatest challenges with human microbiota studies is making inferences about composition of colonic microbiota from faeces. There are known differences between faecal and caecal microbiota composition in humans along with spatial variation across the gastrointestinal tract.

It is difficult to interpret microbiome-host associations without identifying the driving influence in such an interaction. Large cohort studies may require thousands of participants on order to reach 20 % explanatory power for a certain host-trait with specific microbiota-associated metrics (Shannon diversity, relative microbial abundance). Collection of metadata is important to allow for a better comparison between studies, and to identify differentially abundant microbes arising from confounding variables.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763421001032 “Mining Microbes for Mental Health: Determining the Role of Microbial Metabolic Pathways in Human Brain Health and Disease”


Don’t understand why these researchers handcuffed themselves by only using PubMed searches. For example, two papers were cited for:

“Conjugated and unconjugated bile acids, as well as taurine or glycine alone, are potential neuroactive ligands in humans.”

Compare scientific coverage of PubMed with Scopus:

  • 2017 paper: PubMed citations 39; Scopus citations 69.
  • 2019 paper: PubMed citations 69; Scopus citations 102.

Large numbers of papers intentionally missing from PubMed probably influenced this review’s findings, such as:

  1. “There are too few fibromyalgia and migraine microbiome-related studies to make definitive conclusions. However, one fibromyalgia study found altered microbial species associated with SCFA and tryptophan metabolism, as well as changes in serum levels of SCFAs. Similarly, the sole migraine-microbiota study reported an increased abundance of the kynurenine synthesis GBM (gut-brain module).
  2. Due to heterogeneity of stroke and vascular disease conditions, it is difficult to make substantial comparisons between studies. There is convincing evidence for involvement of specific microbial genera / species and a neurovascular condition in humans. However, taxa were linked to LPS biosynthesis rather than SCFA production.
  3. Several studies suggest lasting microbial changes in response to prenatal or postnatal stress, though these do not provide evidence for involvement of SCFA, tryptophan, or bile-acid modifying bacteria. Similar to stress, there are very few studies assessing impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on microbiota.”

These researchers took on a difficult task. Their study design could have been better.


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Wildlife

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One aspect of research on short-chain fatty acids

To further understand An overlooked gut microbiota product, a 2018 rodent study found:

“Microbial metabolites short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) have been implicated in gastrointestinal functional, neuroimmune regulation, and host metabolism, but their role in stress-induced behavioural and physiological alterations is poorly understood

SCFAs are primarily derived from fermentation of dietary fibres, and play a pivotal role in host gut, metabolic and immune function. All these factors have previously been demonstrated to be adversely affected by stress.

Administration of SCFAs to mice undergoing psychosocial stress alleviated enduring alterations in anhedonia and heightened stress-responsiveness, as well as stress-induced increases in intestinal permeability.

experimental design

SCFA treatment alleviated psychosocial stress-induced alterations in reward-seeking behaviour, and increased responsiveness to an acute stressor and in vivo intestinal permeability. In addition, SCFAs exhibited behavioural test-specific antidepressant and anxiolytic effects, which were not present when mice had also undergone psychosocial stress.”

https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1113/JP276431 “Short-chain fatty acids: microbial metabolites that alleviate stress-induced brain–gut axis alterations”


One way researchers advance science is to relate aspects of their findings to previous studies. That approach works, but may miss items that weren’t covered in previous research.

This study fed specific quantities of three SCFAs – acetate, butyrate, and propionate – apparently due to previous research findings. If other SCFAs produced by gut microbiota were ignored – like crotonate (aka unsaturated butyrate) – how would that approach advance science?

I found this study from its citation in Harnessing endogenous defenses with broccoli sprouts.

Our first 1000 days

This 2021 review subject was a measurable aspect of our early lives:

“The first 1000 days from conception are a sensitive period for human development programming. During this period, environmental exposures may result in long-lasting epigenetic imprints that contribute to future developmental trajectories.

The present review reports on effects of adverse and protective environmental conditions occurring on glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) regulation in humans. Thirty-four studies were included.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is key in regulating mobilization of energy. It is involved in stress reactivity and regulation, and it supports development of behavioral, cognitive, and socio-emotional domains.

The NR3C1 gene encodes for specific glucocorticoid receptors (GRs) in the mammalian brain, and it is epigenetically regulated by environmental exposures.

When mixed stressful conditions were not differentiated for their effects on NR3C1 methylation, no significant results were obtained, which speaks in favor of specificity of epigenetic vestiges of different adverse conditions. Specific maternal behaviors and caregiving actions – such as breastfeeding, sensitive and contingent interactive behavior, and gentle touch – consistently correlated with decreased NR3C1 methylation.

If the neuroendocrine system of a developing fetus and infant is particularly sensitive to environmental stimulations, this model may provide the epigenetic basis to inform promotion of family-centered prevention, treatment, and supportive interventions for at-risk conditions. A more ambiguous picture emerged for later effects of NR3C1 methylation on developmental outcomes during infancy and childhood, suggesting that future research should favor epigenome-wide approaches to long-term epigenetic programming in humans.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0149763421001081 “Glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) methylation during the first thousand days: Environmental exposures and developmental outcomes” (not freely available). Thanks to Dr. Livio Provenci for providing a copy.


I respectfully disagree with recommendations for an EWAS approach during infancy and childhood. What happened to each of us wasn’t necessarily applicable to a group. Group statistics may make interesting research topics, but they won’t change anything for each individual.

Regarding treatment, our individual experiences and needs during our first 1000 days should be repeatedly sensed and felt in order to be therapeutic. Those memories are embedded in our needs because cognitive aspects of our brains weren’t developed then.

To become curative, we first sense and feel early needs and experiences. Later, we understand their contributions and continuations in our emotions, behavior, and thinking.

And then we can start to change who we were made into.