Lactate, a metabolic end product of glycolysis in mammals, has emerged as an important energy substrate for the brain. In addition to its energetic role, lactate was shown to modulate the excitability of neurons, to have a neuroprotective role and to participate in long-term memory formation. One previous investigation from our group reported that lactate modulates 4 synaptic plasticity-associated genes and potentiates the activity of the N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor, a major receptor type involved in glutamatergic neurotransmission. The current thesis aimed at first to extend these findings by examining genome-wide transcriptional responses to this metabolite in cortical neurons. Using ribonucleic acid(RNA) sequencing to evaluate expression changes in protein-coding genes, we found that lactate modulates robustly after 1h, 20 genes involved in the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway and in synaptic plasticity in a NMDA receptor activitydependent manner and that nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, reduced (NADH), but not pyruvate, reproduces the modulatory effects of lactate on 70% of all differentially expressed genes. In a time course experiment, genes modulated after lactate treatment for 6h and 24h were also identified; these are involved in 9 signaling pathways including circadian rhythm, drug addiction, and retrograde endocannabinoid signaling. Bioinformatics analyses indicated CREB1 and CREM as candidate master regulators of gene expression and the modulatory effect of lactate was prevented by inhibitors of Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) activity, indicating a role for this kinase in mediating lactate signaling. An examination of changes in dendritic spines’ morphology and density - a morphologicalcorrelate of synaptic plasticity – has shown that lactate modulated spine density changes induced by potassium chloride (KCl) and carbachol. An additional investigation described in this thesis indicated that different gut microbiota manipulations (germ-free, prebiotics, high-fat diet) regulated mRNA expression of genes involved in the Astrocyte-Neuron Lactate Shuttle (ANLS) - a metabolic cooperation mechanism between astrocytes and glutamatergic neurons. Overall, the results of this thesis help to establish a role for lactate as a signaling molecule in the brain, highlight mechanisms implicated in its signaling, and open new avenues for investigation of links between the gut microbiota and brain energy metabolism.
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