Propionic Acid Induces Gliosis and Neuro-inflammation through Modulation of PTEN/AKT Pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Sci Rep. 2019 Jun 19;9(1):8824. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45348-z.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by glia over-proliferation, neuro-inflammation, perturbed neural circuitry, and gastrointestinal symptoms. The role of gut dys-biosis in ASD is intriguing and should be elucidated. We investigated the effect of Propionic acid (PPA), a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) and a product of dys-biotic ASD gut, on human neural stem cells (hNSCs) proliferation, differentiation and inflammation. hNSCs proliferated to 66 neuropsheres when exposed to PPA versus 45 in control. The neurosphere diameter also increased at day 10 post PPA treatment to (Mean: 193.47 um ± SEM: 6.673 um) versus (154.16 um ± 9.95 um) in control, p < 0.001. Pre-treatment with β-HB, SCFA receptor inhibitor, hindered neurosphere expansion (p < 0.001). While hNSCs spontaneously differentiated to (48.38% ± 6.08%) neurons (Tubulin-IIIβ positive) and (46.63% ± 2.5%) glia (GFAP positive), PPA treatment drastically shifted differentiation to 80% GFAP cells (p < 0.05). Following 2 mM PPA exposure, TNF-α transcription increased 4.98 fold and the cytokine increased 3.29 fold compared to control (P < 0.001). Likewise, GPR41 (PPA receptor) and pro-survival p-Akt protein were elevated (p < 0.001). PTEN (Akt inhibitor) level decreased to (0.42 ug/ul ± 0.04 ug/ul) at 2 mM PPA compared to (0.83 ug/ul ± 0.09 ug/ul) in control (p < 0.001). PPA at 2 mM decreased neurite outgrowth to (80.70 um ± 5.5 um) compared to (194.93 um ± 19.7 um) in control. Clearly, the data supports a significant role for PPA in modulating hNSC patterning leading to gliosis, disturbed neuro-circuitry, and inflammatory response as seen in ASD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't