APOE alters glucose flux through central carbon pathways in astrocytes

Holden C. Williams, Brandon C. Farmer, Margaret A. Piron, Adeline E. Walsh, Ronald C. Bruntz, Matthew S. Gentry, Ramon C. Sun, Lance A. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The Apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene is a major genetic risk factor associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD). APOE encodes for three main isoforms in humans (E2, E3, and E4). Homozygous E4 individuals have more than a 10-fold higher risk for developing late-onset AD, while E2 carriers are protected. A hallmark of AD is a reduction in cerebral glucose metabolism, alluding to a strong metabolic component in disease onset and progression. Interestingly, E4 individuals display a similar regional pattern of cerebral glucose hypometabolism decades prior to disease onset. Mapping this metabolic landscape may help elucidate the underlying biological mechanism of APOE-associated risk for AD. Efficient metabolic coupling of neurons and glia is necessary for proper neuronal function, and disruption in glial energy distribution has been proposed to contribute to neuronal cell death and AD pathology. One important function of astrocytes – canonically the primary source of apolipoprotein E in the brain – is to provide metabolic substrates (lactate, lipids, amino acids and neurotransmitters) to neurons. Here we investigate the effects of APOE on astrocyte glucose metabolism in vitro utilizing scintillation proximity assays, stable isotope tracer metabolomics, and gene expression analyses. Glucose uptake is impaired in E4 astrocytes relative to E2 or E3 with specific alterations in central carbon metabolism. Using stable isotope labeled glucose [U-13C] allowed analyses of astrocyte-specific deep metabolic networks affected by APOE, and provided insight to the effects downstream of glucose uptake. Enrichment of 13C in early steps of glycolysis was lowest in E4 astrocytes (highest in E2), while synthesis of lactate from glucose was highest in E4 astrocytes (lowest in E2). We observed an increase in glucose flux through the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP), with downstream increases in gluconeogenesis, lipid, and de novo nucleotide biosynthesis in E4 astrocytes. There was also a marked increase in 13C enrichment in the TCA cycle of E4 astrocytes – whose substrates were also incorporated into biosynthetic pathways at a higher rate. Pyruvate carboxylase (PC) and pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) are the two main enzymes controlling pyruvate entry to the TCA cycle. PC gene expression is increased in E4 astrocytes and the activity relative to PDH was also increased, compared to E2 or E3. Decreased enrichment in the TCA cycle of E2 and E3 astrocytes is suggestive of increased oxidation and non-glucose derived anaplerosis, which could be fueling mitochondrial ATP production. Conversely, E4 astrocytes appear to increase carbon flux into the TCA cycle to fuel cataplerosis. Together, these data demonstrate clear APOE isoform-specific effects on glucose utilization in astrocytes, including E4-associated increases in lactate synthesis, PPP flux, and de novo biosynthesis pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104742
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
StatePublished - Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • APOE
  • Alzheimers disease
  • Astrocytes
  • Glucose
  • Metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology


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