Reduced AMPK activation and increased HCAR activation drive anti-inflammatory response and neuroprotection in glaucoma

Mohammad Harun-Or-Rashid, Denise M. Inman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Background: Glaucoma is a chronic degenerative disease for which inflammation is considered to play a pivotal role in the pathogenesis and progression. In this study, we examined the impact of a ketogenic diet on the inflammation evident in glaucoma as a follow-up to a recent set of experiments in which we determined that a ketogenic diet protected retinal ganglion cell structure and function. Methods: Both sexes of DBA/2J (D2) mice were placed on a ketogenic diet (keto) or standard rodent chow (untreated) for 8 weeks beginning at 9 months of age. DBA/2J-Gpnmb + (D2G) mice were also used as a non-pathological genetic control for the D2 mice. Retina and optic nerve (ON) tissues were micro-dissected and used for the analysis of microglia activation, expression of pro- and anti-inflammatory molecules, and lactate- or ketone-mediated anti-inflammatory signaling. Data were analyzed by immunohistochemistry, quantitative RT-PCR, ELISA, western blot, and capillary tube-based electrophoresis techniques. Results: Microglia activation was observed in D2 retina and ON as documented by intense microglial-specific Iba1 immunolabeling of rounded-up and enlarged microglia. Ketogenic diet treatment reduced Iba1 expression and the activated microglial phenotype. We detected low energy-induced AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) phosphorylation in D2 retina and ON that triggered NF-κB p65 signaling through its nuclear translocation. NF-κB induced pro-inflammatory TNF-α, IL-6, and NOS2 expression in D2 retina and ON. However, treatment with the ketogenic diet reduced AMPK phosphorylation, NF-κB p65 nuclear translocation, and expression of pro-inflammatory molecules. The ketogenic diet also induced expression of anti-inflammatory agents Il-4 and Arginase-1 in D2 retina and ON. Increased expression of hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 1 (HCAR1) after ketogenic diet treatment was observed. HCAR1 stimulation by lactate or ketones from the ketogenic diet reduced inflammasome formation, as shown by reduced mRNA and protein expression of NLRP3 and IL-1β. We also detected increased levels of Arrestin β-2 protein, an adapter protein required for HCAR1 signaling. Conclusion: Our data demonstrate that the AMPK activation apparent in the glaucomatous retina and ON triggers NF-κB signaling and consequently induces a pro-inflammatory response. The ketogenic diet resolves energy demand and ameliorates the inflammation by inhibition of AMPK activation and stimulation of HCAR1-ARRB2 signaling that inhibits NLRP3 inflammasome-mediated inflammation. Thus, these findings depict a neuroprotective mechanism of the ketogenic diet in controlling inflammation and suggest potential therapeutic targets for inflammatory neurodegenerative diseases, including glaucoma.

Original languageEnglish
Article number313
JournalJournal of neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 13 Nov 2018


  • AMP-activated protein kinase
  • Glaucoma
  • Inflammation hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor
  • Ketogenic diet


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