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Maria Esteban-Lopez and Alexander I Agoulnik

Insulin-like 3 peptide (INSL3) is a member of the insulin-like peptide superfamily and is the only known physiological ligand of relaxin family peptide receptor 2 (RXFP2), a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR). In mammals, INSL3 is primarily produced both in testicular Leydig cells and in ovarian theca cells, but circulating levels of the hormone are much higher in males than in females. The INSL3/RXFP2 system has an essential role in the development of the gubernaculum for the initial transabdominal descent of the testis and in maintaining proper reproductive health in men. Although its function in female physiology has been less well-characterized, it was reported that INSL3 deletion affects antral follicle development during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle and uterus function. Since the discovery of its role in the reproductive system, the study of INSL3/RXFP2 has expanded to others organs, such as skeletal muscle, bone, kidney, thyroid, brain, and eye. This review aims to summarize the various advances in understanding the physiological function of this ligand–receptor pair since its first discovery and elucidate its future therapeutic potential in the management of various diseases.

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André Sarmento-Cabral, Mercedes del Rio-Moreno, Mari C. Vazquez-Borrego, Mairyah Mahmood, Elena Guiterrez-Casado, Natalie Pelke, Grace Guzman, Papasani V Subbaiah, Jose Cordoba-Chacon, Shoshana Yakar, and Rhonda D Kineman

A reduction in hepatocyte growth hormone (GH)-signaling promotes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, debate remains as to the relative contribution of the direct effects of GH on hepatocyte function versus indirect effects, via alterations in insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1). To isolate the role of hepatocyte GH receptor (GHR) signaling, independent of changes in IGF1, mice with adult-onset, hepatocyte-specific GHR knockdown (aHepGHRkd) were treated with a vector expressing rat IGF1 targeted specifically to hepatocytes. Compared to GHR-intact mice, aHepGHRkd reduced circulating IGF1 and elevated GH. In male aHepGHRkd, the shift in IGF1/GH did not alter plasma glucose or non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), but was associated with increased insulin, enhanced systemic lipid oxidation and reduced white adipose tissue (WAT) mass. Livers of male aHepGHRkd exhibited steatosis associated with increased de novo lipogenesis, hepatocyte ballooning and inflammation. In female aHepGHRkd, hepatic GHR protein levels were not detectable, but moderate levels of IGF1 were maintained, with minimal alterations in systemic metabolism and no evidence of steatosis. Reconstitution of hepatocyte IGF1 in male aHepGHRkd lowered GH and normalized insulin, whole body lipid utilization and WAT mass. However, IGF1 reconstitution did not reduce steatosis or eliminate liver injury. RNAseq analysis showed IGF1 reconstitution did not impact aHepGHRkd-induced changes in liver gene expression, despite changes in systemic metabolism. These results demonstrate the impact of aHepGHRkd is sexually dimorphic and the steatosis and liver injury observed in male aHepGHRkd mice is autonomous of IGF1, suggesting GH acts directly on the adult hepatocyte to control NAFLD progression.

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Flávia Maria Silva-Veiga, Carolline Santos Miranda, Fabiane Ferreira Martins, Julio Beltrame Daleprane, Carlos Alberto Mandarim-de-Lacerda, and Vanessa Souza-Mello

Fructose dietary intake affects the composition of the intestinal microbiota and influences the development of hepatic steatosis. Endotoxins produced by gram-negative bacteria alter intestinal permeability and cause bacterial translocation. This study evaluated the effects of gut microbiota modulation by a purified PPAR-alpha agonist (WY14643), a DPP-4 inhibitor (linagliptin), or their association on intestinal barrier integrity, endotoxemia, and hepatic energy metabolism in high-fructose-fed C57BL/6 mice. Fifty mice were divided to receive the control diet (C group) or the high-fructose diet (HFRU) for 12 weeks. Subsequently, the HFRU group was divided to initiate the treatment with PPAR-alpha agonist (3.5 mg/kg/BM) and DPP-4 inhibitor (15 mg/kg/BM). The HFRU group had glucose intolerance, endotoxemia, and dysbiosis (with increased Proteobacteria) without changes in body mass in comparison with the C group. HFRU group showed damaged intestinal ultrastructure, which led to liver inflammation and marked hepatic steatosis in the HFRU group when compared to the C group. PPAR-alpha activation and DPP-4 inhibition countered glucose intolerance, endotoxemia, and dysbiosis, ameliorating the ultrastructure of the intestinal barrier and reducing Tlr4 expression in the liver of treated animals. These beneficial effects suppressed lipogenesis and mitigated hepatic steatosis. In conclusion, the results herein propose a role for PPAR-alpha activation, DPP-4 inhibition, and their association in attenuating hepatic steatosis by gut-liver axis modulation in high-fructose mice model. These observations suggest these treatments as potential targets to treat hepatic steatosis and avoid its progression.

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Iyad H Manaserh, Emily Maly, Marziyeh Jahromi, Lakshmikanth Chikkamenahalli, Joshua Park, and Jennifer Hill

The important role of astrocytes in the central control of energy balance and glucose homeostasis has recently been recognized. Changes in thermoregulation can lead to metabolic dysregulation, but the role of astrocytes in this process is not yet clear. Therefore, we generated mice congenitally lacking insulin receptors (Ir) in astrocytes (IrKOGFAP mice) to investigate the involvement of astrocyte insulin signaling. IrKOGFAP mice displayed significantly lower energy expenditure and a strikingly lower basal and fasting body temperature. When exposed to cold, however, they were able to mount a thermogenic response. IrKOGFAP mice displayed sex differences in metabolic function and thermogenesis that may contribute to the development of obesity and type II diabetes as early as 2 months of age. While brown adipose tissue exhibited higher adipocyte size in both sexes, more apoptosis was seen in IrKOGFAP males. Less innervation and lower BAR3 expression levels were also observed in IrKOGFAP brown adipose tissue. These effects have not been reported in models of astrocyte Ir deletion in adulthood. In contrast, body weight and glucose regulatory defects phenocopied such models. These findings identify a novel role for astrocyte insulin signaling in the development of normal body temperature control and sympathetic activation of BAT. Targeting insulin signaling in astrocytes has the potential to serve as a novel target for increasing energy expenditure.

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Tian Shuang, Ming Fu, Guangdong Yang, Ying Huang, Zhongming Qian, Lingyun Wu, and Rui Wang

Both estrogen and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) inhibit the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMCs) and development of atherosclerosis. In the absence of endogenous H2S as occurred in CSE-knockout (KO) mouse, however, estrogen stimulates the proliferation of vascular SMCs. The underlying mechanisms for this seemingly controversial vascular effect of estrogen are unclear. In the present study, we demonstrated that the stimulatory effect of estrogen on the proliferation of CSE-KO SMCs was suppressed by the inhibitor of insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor (IGF-1R) or knockdown of IGF-1R protein expression. Estrogen downregulated the expression of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and IGF-1R in aortic tissues or aortic SMCs isolated from wild-type (WT) and CSE-KO mice. Furthermore, endogenous H2S downregulated IGF-1R, but upregulated estrogen receptor (ER)-α, in aortic tissues or SMCs. ER-α and IGF-1R were co-located in SMCs and co-immunoprecipitated, which was decreased by H2S. Finally, both endogenous and exogenous H2S induced the S-sulfhydration of IGF-1R, but not ER-α, in WT-SMCs and CSE-KO SMCs, which underlies the decreased formation of IGF-1R/ER-α hybrid in the presence of H2S. Thus, the absence of H2S favors the interaction of estrogen with IGF-1R/ER-α hybrid to stimulate SMCs proliferation. The appreciation of a critical role of H2S in preventing estrogen-induced SMCs proliferation will help better understand the regulation of complex vascular effects of estrogen and sex-related cardiovascular diseases.

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Henrik Oster

Endogenous circadian clocks adapt an organism’s physiology and behavior to predictable changes in the environment as a consequence of the Earth’s rotation around its axis. In mammals, circadian rhythms are the output of a ubiquitous network of cellular timers coordinated by a hypothalamic master pacemaker. Circadian clock function is closely connected to the stress response system which has evolved to ensure survival under less predictable situations of danger. Disruptions in both of these functions are highly prevalent in modern society and have been linked to pathologic alterations in metabolic setpoints, promoting overeating, obesity, and type-2 diabetes. This paper describes the different levels of interaction between the circadian clock and acute and chronic stress responses. It summarizes studies assessing clock-stress crosstalk in the context of metabolic homeostasis and outlines options to use this interaction for diagnostic and therapeutic measures targeting metabolic health and well-being in the highly chronodisruptive environment of modern 24-h globalized societies.

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Prasanthi P Koganti and Vimal Selvaraj

Despite being a highly conserved protein, the precise role of the mitochondrial translocator protein (TSPO), previously known as the peripheral benzodiazepine receptor (PBR), remains elusive. The void created by studies that overturned a presumptive model that described TSPO/PBR as a mitochondrial cholesterol transporter for steroidogenesis has been filled with evidence that it can affect mitochondrial metabolic functions across different model systems. We previously reported that TSPO/PBR deficient steroidogenic cells upregulate mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation and presented a strong positive correlation between TSPO/PBR expression and tissues active in triglyceride metabolism or lipid storage. Nevertheless, the highlighting of inconsistencies in prior work has provoked reprisals that threaten to stifle progress. One frequent factoid presented as being supportive of a cholesterol import function is that there are no steroid-synthesizing cell types without high TSPO/PBR expression. In this study, we examine the hamster adrenal gland that is devoid of lipid droplets in the cortex and largely relies on de novo cholesterol biosynthesis and uptake for steroidogenesis. We find that Tspo expression in the hamster adrenal is imperceptible compared to the mouse. This observation is consistent with a substantially low expression of Cpt1a in the hamster adrenal, indicating minimal mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation capacity compared to the mouse. These findings provide further reinforcement that the much sought-after mechanism of TSPO/PBR function remains correlated with the extent of cellular triglyceride metabolism. Thus, TSPO/PBR could have a homeostatic function relevant only to steroidogenic systems that manage triglycerides associated with lipid droplets.

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Brit H Boehmer, Peter R Baker II, Laura D Brown, Stephanie R Wesolowski, and Paul J Rozance

A 9-day infusion of leucine into fetal sheep potentiates fetal glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS). However, there were accompanying pancreatic structural changes that included a larger proportion of β-cells and increased vascularity. Whether leucine can acutely potentiate fetal GSIS in vivo before these structural changes develop is unknown. The mechanisms by which leucine acutely potentiates GSIS in adult islets and insulin-secreting cell lines are well known. These mechanisms involve leucine metabolism, including leucine oxidation. However, it is not clear if leucine-stimulated metabolic pathways are active in fetal islets. We hypothesized that leucine would acutely potentiate GSIS in fetal sheep and that isolated fetal islets are capable of oxidizing leucine. We also hypothesized that leucine would stimulate other metabolic pathways associated with insulin secretion. In pregnant sheep we tested in vivo GSIS with and without an acute leucine infusion. In isolated fetal sheep islets, we measured leucine oxidation with a [1-14C] l-leucine tracer. We also measured concentrations of other amino acids, glucose, and analytes associated with cellular metabolism following incubation of fetal islets with leucine. In vivo, a leucine infusion resulted in glucose-stimulated insulin concentrations that were over 50% higher than controls (P < 0.05). Isolated fetal islets oxidized leucine. Leucine supplementation of isolated fetal islets also resulted in significant activation of metabolic pathways involving leucine and other amino acids. In summary, acute leucine supplementation potentiates fetal GSIS in vivo, likely through pathways related to the oxidation of leucine and catabolism of other amino acids.

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Julia Nc Toews, Geoffrey L Hammond, and Victor Viau

Normal function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is critical for survival, and its development is choreographed for age-, sex- and context-specific actions. The liver influences HPA ontogeny, integrating diverse endocrine signals that inhibit or activate its development. This review examines how developmental changes in the expression of genes in the liver coordinate postnatal changes in multiple endocrine systems that coordinate the maturation and sexual dimorphism of the rat HPA axis. Specifically, it examines how the ontogeny of testicular androgen production, somatostatin-growth hormone activities, and hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis activity intersect to influence the hepatic gene expression of insulin-like growth factor 1, corticosteroid-binding globulin, thyroxine-binding globulin, 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 and 5α-reductase type 1. The timing of such molecular changes vary between mammalian species, but they are evolutionarily conserved and are poised to control homeostasis broadly, especially during adversity. Importantly, with the liver as their nexus, these diverse endocrine systems establish the fundamental organization of the HPA axis throughout postnatal development, and thereby ultimately determine the actions of glucocorticoids during adulthood.

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Pierre Hofstee, Janelle James-McAlpine, Daniel R McKeating, Jessica J Vanderlelie, James SM Cuffe, and Anthony V Perkins

Thyroid disorders are the most common endocrine disorders affecting women commencing pregnancy. Thyroid hormone metabolism is strongly influenced by selenium status; however, the relationship between serum selenium concentrations and thyroid hormones in euthyroid pregnant women is unknown. This study investigated the relationship between maternal selenium and thyroid hormone status during pregnancy by utilising data from a retrospective, cross-sectional study with cohorts from two tertiary care hospitals in South East Queensland, Australia. Pregnant women (n = 206) were recruited at 26-30 weeks gestation and serum selenium concentrations were assessed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Thyroid function was measured in serum samples from women (n=21) with the lowest serum selenium concentrations (51.2 ± 1.2 µg/L), mean concentrations of the entire cohort (78.8 ± 0.4 µg/L) and the optimal serum selenium concentrations (106.9 ± 2.3 µg/L). Women with low serum selenium concentrations demonstrated reduced fT3 levels (P < 0.05) and increased TPOAb (P < 0.01). Serum selenium was positively correlated with fT3 (P < 0.05) and negatively correlated with TPOAb (P < 0.001). Serum fT4 and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was not different between all groups, though the fT4/TSH ratio was increased in the low selenium cohort (P < 0.05). Incidence of pregnancy disorders, most notably gestational diabetes mellitus, was increased within the low serum selenium cohort (P < 0.01). These results suggest selenium status in pregnant women of South East Queensland may not be adequate, with possible implications for atypical thyroid function and undesirable pregnancy outcomes.