Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Program in Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Michael P. Czech, Ph.D.


Macrophages, Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases, Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins, Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases, Signal Transduction, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha, RNA, Small Interfering, Adipocytes, Activating Transcription Factor 2, Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-jun


Human obesity is increasing globally at an impressive rate. The rise in obesity has led to an increase in diseases associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes. A major prerequisite for this disease is the development of insulin resistance in the muscle and adipose tissues. Interestingly, experiments in rodent models suggest that adipocytes and macrophages can profoundly influence the development of insulin resistance. Accordingly, the number of adipose tissue macrophages increases substantially during the development of obesity. Numerous research models have demonstrated that macrophages promote insulin resistance by secreting cytokines, like TNFα, which impair whole body insulin sensitivity and adipose tissue function. Additionally, enhancements of murine adipose function, particularly glucose disposal, prevent the development of insulin resistance in mice on a high fat diet. Thus, mechanisms which enhance adipose function or attenuate macrophage inflammation are of interest.

Our lab previously identified mitogen activated protein kinase kinase kinase kinase 4 (MAP4K4) as a potent negative regulator of adipocyte function. In these studies, TNFα treatment increased the expression of adipocyte MAP4K4. Furthermore, the use of small interfering RNAs (siRNA) to block the increase in MAP4K4 expression protected adipocytes from some of the adverse effects of TNFα. Because MAP4K4 is a potent negative regulator of adipocyte function, an understanding of the mechanisms by which TNFα regulates MAP4K4 expression is of interest. Thus, for the first part of this thesis, I characterized the signaling pathways utilized by TNFα to regulate MAP4K4 expression in cultured adipocytes. Here I show that TNFα increases MAP4K4 expression through a pathway requiring the transcription factors activating transcription factor 2 (ATF2) and the JUN oncogene (cJUN). Through TNFα receptor 1 (TNFR1), but not TNFR2, TNFα increases MAP4K4 expression. This increase is highly specific to TNFα, as the inflammatory agents IL-1β, IL-6 and LPS did not affect MAP4K4 expression. In agreement, the activation of cJUN and ATF2 by TNFα is sustained over a longer period of time than by IL-1β in adipocytes. Finally, MAP4K4 is unique as the expression of other MAP kinases tested fails to change substantially with TNFα treatment.

For the second part of this thesis, I assessed the role of MAP4K4 in macrophage inflammation in vitro and in vivo. To accomplish this task, pure β1,3-D-glucan shells were used to encapsulate siRNA. Glucan shells were utilized because they are effectively taken up by macrophages which express the dectin-1 receptor and they survive oral delivery. I demonstrate that these β1,3-D-glucan encapsulated RNAi particles (GeRPs) are efficiently phagocytosed and capable of mediating the silencing of multiple macrophage genes in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, oral treatment of mice with GeRPs fails to increase plasma IFNγ and TNFα or alter serum AST and ALT levels. Orally administered GeRPs are found in macrophages isolated from the spleen, liver, lung and peritoneal cavity and mediate macrophage gene silencing in these tissues.

Utilizing this technology, I reveal that MAP4K4 augments the expression of TNFα in macrophages following LPS treatment. Oral delivery of MAP4K4 siRNA in GeRPs silences MAP4K4 expression by 70% and reduces basal TNFα and IL-1β expression significantly. The depletion of MAP4K4 in macrophages protects 40% of mice from death in the LPS/D- galactosamine (D-GalN) model of septicemia, compared to less than 10% in the control groups. This protection associates with significant decreases in serum TNFα concentrations following LPS/D-GalN challenge. Consistent with reduced macrophage inflammation, hepatocytes from mice treated orally with GeRPs targeting MAP4K4 present less apoptosis following LPS/D-GalN treatment. Thus, MAP4K4 is an important regulator of macrophage TNFα production in response to LPS.

The results presented here add to the knowledge of MAP4K4 action in adipocyte and macrophage inflammation substantially. Prior to these studies, the mechanism by which TNFα controlled MAP4K4 expression in adipocytes remained unknown. Considering that MAP4K4 is a negative regulator of adipocyte function, identifying the mechanisms that control MAP4K4 expression was of interest. Furthermore, the role of macrophage MAP4K4 in LPS stimulated TNFα production was also unknown. To address this question in vivo, new technology specifically targeting macrophages was needed. Thus, we developed a technology for non toxic and highly specific macrophage gene silencing in vivo. Considering that macrophages mediate numerous diseases, the application of GeRPs to these disease models is an exciting new possibility.



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