Lactate receptor HCAR1 regulates neurogenesis and microglia activation after neonatal hypoxia-ischemia

Elife. 2022 Aug 9:11:e76451. doi: 10.7554/eLife.76451.


Neonatal cerebral hypoxia-ischemia (HI) is the leading cause of death and disability in newborns with the only current treatment being hypothermia. An increased understanding of the pathways that facilitate tissue repair after HI may aid the development of better treatments. Here, we study the role of lactate receptor HCAR1 in tissue repair after neonatal HI in mice. We show that HCAR1 knockout mice have reduced tissue regeneration compared with wildtype mice. Furthermore, proliferation of neural progenitor cells and glial cells, as well as microglial activation was impaired. Transcriptome analysis showed a strong transcriptional response to HI in the subventricular zone of wildtype mice involving about 7300 genes. In contrast, the HCAR1 knockout mice showed a modest response, involving about 750 genes. Notably, fundamental processes in tissue repair such as cell cycle and innate immunity were dysregulated in HCAR1 knockout. Our data suggest that HCAR1 is a key transcriptional regulator of pathways that promote tissue regeneration after HI.

Keywords: cell biology; gpr81; hca1; hcar1; ischemia; lactate; mouse; neurogenesis; neuroscience.

Plain language summary

Hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury is the most common cause of disability in newborn babies. This happens when the blood supply to the brain is temporarily blocked during birth and cells do not receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive. Cooling the babies down after the hypoxic-ischemic attack (via a technique called hypothermic treatment) can to some extent reduce the damage caused by the injury. However, doctors still need new drugs that can protect the brain and improve its recovery after the injury has occurred. Research in mice suggests that a chemical called lactate might help the brain to recover. Lactate is produced by muscles during hard exercise to provide energy to cells when oxygen levels are low. Recent studies have shown that it can also act as a signalling molecule that binds to a receptor called HCAR1 (short for hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor) on the surface of cells. However, it is poorly understood what role HCAR1 plays in the brain and whether it helps the brain recover from a hypoxic-ischaemic injury. To investigate, Kennedy et al. compared newborn mice with and without the gene that codes for HCAR1 that had undergone a hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury. While HCAR1 did not protect the mice from the disease, it did help their brains to heal. Mice with the gene for HCAR1 partly recovered some of their damaged brain tissue six weeks after the injury. Their cells switched on thousands of genes involved in the immune system and cell cycle, resulting in new brain cells being formed that could repopulate the injured areas. In contrast, the brain tissue of mice lacking HCAR1 barely produced any new cells. These findings suggest that HCAR1 may help with brain recovery after hypoxia-ischemia in newborn mice. This could lead to the development of drugs that might reduce or repair brain damage in newborn babies. However, further studies are needed to investigate whether HCAR1 has the same effect in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Ischemia / metabolism
  • Lactic Acid* / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microglia* / metabolism
  • Neurogenesis
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*


  • Hcar1 protein, mouse
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Lactic Acid

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.8w9ghx3kw

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.