Investigating the Role of Lactate in Regulating Gene Expression through Epigenetic Modifications in Neuronal Cells

  • Manar M. Darwish

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Lactate has been long thought of as a dead-end waste product of glycolysis. In the brain, recent evidence has revealed a key role of L-lactate creating a paradigm-shift in our understanding of the neuronal energy metabolism. The Astrocyte neuron lactate shuttle (ANLS) model, has shown L-Lactate as the main energy substrate delivered by astrocytes to neurons to sustain neuronal oxidative metabolism. This metabolic coupling is an essential mechanism for long-term memory formation. Experimental evidence indicates that the role of lactate in cognitive function is not limited to being a neuronal metabolic substrate, but rather it is also an important signaling molecule for synaptic plasticity. One of the new emerging roles of lactate is its effect on gene expression levels; however, our current understanding of the mechanism of lactate effect on gene expression is rudimentary. Here, I investigate the role of lactate as an epigenetic modulator in neuronal cultures. First, I explored the effect of lactate on the transcriptome and methylome of the neuronal cells using primary neuronal cell culture models. Our results reveal a significant role for lactate in inducing neuronal cell differentiation. Following, I characterized a neuroblastoma cell line as our neuronal differentiation cell model and assessed its metabolic features relative to other immortal cell lines. Further, using the cell line in vitro model, I looked into the metabolic reprograming that occurs in parallel with the first indications of differentiation, focusing on lactate production rates. Subsequently, I investigated the role of lactate in differentiation through transcriptomic analysis. We show that lactate induced histone acetylation and promoted expression of dopaminergic markers, with a stronger effect of D-lactate over L-lactate. Further studies to establish potential linkages between those two pathways will enhance our understanding of the effect of lactate.
Date of AwardNov 2019
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorPierre Magistretti (Supervisor)


  • Neurons
  • Lactate
  • Dopaminergic
  • DNA methylation
  • Histone Acetylation
  • Neuronal Differentiation

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