Glycosphingolipid levels and glucocerebrosidase activity are altered in normal aging of the mouse brain

Neurobiol Aging. 2018 Jul;67:189-200. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2018.02.028. Epub 2018 Mar 29.


Aging is the predominant risk factor for both genetic and sporadic Parkinson's disease (PD). The majority of PD cases are nonfamilial, and the connection between aging and PD-associated genes is not well understood. Haploinsufficiency of the GBA gene, leading to a reduction in glucocerebrosidase (GCase) activity, is one of the most common genetic risk factors for PD. Furthermore, GCase activity is also reduced in brain regions of sporadic PD patients, with a corresponding accumulation of its glycosphingolipid (GSL) substrates. Recent findings in PD patients and aging control cases, and in human PD patient induced pluripotent stem cell neurons, have shown an age-dependent reduction in GCase activity and an elevation of some GSLs. We therefore asked whether aging-induced changes to both lysosomal and nonlysosomal GCase activity and GSL homeostasis in the brain could also be reflected in other nonhuman mammalian systems. Increases in brain polyubiquitin and the lysosomal-associated membrane protein, LAMP2A, were found in 24-month-old wild-type mice compared to 1.5-month-old mice. A lipidomic analysis was performed on brains of wild-type mice of different strains between 1.5 and 24 months of age. Aging created GSL changes that are reminiscent of sporadic PD. Levels of glucosylceramide, glucosylsphingosine, lactosylceramide, and GM1a were elevated in the brain of aged mice, and levels of complex gangliosides, GD1a, GD1b, and GT1b, were reduced with age. Parallel biochemical analyses revealed a change in lipid metabolism probably mediated by lysosomal hydrolases, with reduced GCase and increased neuraminidase activity. Based on these data, we hypothesize that perturbation of GSL metabolism in the aging brain may precede or may be part of abnormal protein handling and may accelerate PD pathophysiological processes in vulnerable neurons in PD and other age-related neurodegenerative disorders.

Keywords: Aging; Glucosylceramide; Lipid; Lysosome; Neurodegeneration; Parkinson's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glucosylceramidase / genetics*
  • Glucosylceramidase / metabolism*
  • Glucosylceramides / metabolism
  • Glycosphingolipids / metabolism*
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 2 / metabolism
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Parkinson Disease / etiology
  • Parkinson Disease / genetics
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Polyubiquitin / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Glucosylceramides
  • Glycosphingolipids
  • Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 2
  • Polyubiquitin
  • Glucosylceramidase