Aspirin-Mediated Acetylation Protects Against Multiple Neurodegenerative Pathologies by Impeding Protein Aggregation

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2017 Dec 10;27(17):1383-1396. doi: 10.1089/ars.2016.6978. Epub 2017 Jun 28.


Aims: Many progressive neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease (AD), Huntington's disease, and Parkinson's disease (PD), are characterized by accumulation of insoluble protein aggregates. In prospective trials, the cyclooxygenase inhibitor aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) reduced the risk of AD and PD, as well as cardiovascular events and many late-onset cancers. Considering the role played by protein hyperphosphorylation in aggregation and neurodegenerative diseases, and aspirin's known ability to donate acetyl groups, we asked whether aspirin might reduce both phosphorylation and aggregation by acetylating protein targets.

Results: Aspirin was substantially more effective than salicylate in reducing or delaying aggregation in human neuroblastoma cells grown in vitro, and in Caenorhabditis elegans models of human neurodegenerative diseases in vivo. Aspirin acetylates many proteins, while reducing phosphorylation, suggesting that acetylation may oppose phosphorylation. Surprisingly, acetylated proteins were largely excluded from compact aggregates. Molecular-dynamic simulations indicate that acetylation of amyloid peptide energetically disfavors its association into dimers and octamers, and oligomers that do form are less compact and stable than those comprising unacetylated peptides.

Innovation: Hyperphosphorylation predisposes certain proteins to aggregate (e.g., tau, α-synuclein, and transactive response DNA-binding protein 43 [TDP-43]), and it is a critical pathogenic marker in both cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. We present novel evidence that acetylated proteins are underrepresented in protein aggregates, and that aggregation varies inversely with acetylation propensity after diverse genetic and pharmacologic interventions.

Conclusions: These results are consistent with the hypothesis that aspirin inhibits protein aggregation and the ensuing toxicity of aggregates through its acetyl-donating activity. This mechanism may contribute to the neuro-protective, cardio-protective, and life-prolonging effects of aspirin. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 27, 1383-1396.

Keywords: (protein) acetylation; (protein) aggregation; (protein) phosphorylation; aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid); inflammation; neurodegeneration.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Animals
  • Aspirin / administration & dosage*
  • Aspirin / pharmacology
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Cell Line
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Protein Aggregates / drug effects
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Protein Aggregates
  • Proteins
  • Aspirin