Hyperammonemia-mediated autophagy in skeletal muscle contributes to sarcopenia of cirrhosis

Jia Qiu, Cynthia Tsien, Samjhana Thapalaya, Arvind Narayanan, Conrad Chris Weihl, James K. Ching, Bijan Eghtesad, Kamini Singh, Xiaoming Fu, George Dubyak, Christine Mcdonald, Alex Almasan, Stanley L. Hazen, Sathyamangla V. Naga Prasad, Srinivasan Dasarathy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations


Hy-perammonemia and sarcopenia (loss of skeletal muscle) are consistent abnormalities in cirrhosis and portosystemic shunting. We have shown that muscle ubiquitin-proteasome components are not increased with hyperammonemia despite sarcopenia. This suggests that an alternative mechanism of proteolysis contributes to sarcopenia in cirrhosis. We hypothesized that autophagy could be this alternative pathway since we observed increases in classic autophagy markers, increased LC3 lipidation, beclin-1 expression, and p62 degradation in immunoblots of skeletal muscle protein in cirrhotic patients. We observed similar changes in these autophagy markers in the portacaval anastamosis (PCA) rat model. To determine the mechanistic relationship between hyperammonemia and autophagy, we exposed murine C2C12 myotubes to ammonium acetate. Significant increases in LC3 lipidation, beclin-1 expression, and p62 degradation occurred by 1 h, whereas autophagy gene expression (LC3, Atg5, Atg7, beclin-1) increased at 24 h. C2C12 cells stably expressing GFP-LC3 or GFP-mCherry-LC3 constructs showed increased formation of mature au-tophagosomes supported by electron microscopic studies. Hyperam-monemia also increased autophagic flux in mice, as quantified by an in vivo autophagometer. Because hyperammonemia induces nitration of proteins in astrocytes, we quantified global muscle protein nitration in cirrhotic patients, in the PCA rat, and in C2C12 cells treated with ammonium acetate. Increased protein nitration was observed in all of these systems. Furthermore, colocalization of nitrated proteins with GFP-LC3-positive puncta in hyperammonemic C2C12 cells suggested that autophagy is involved in degradation of nitrated proteins. These observations show that increased skeletal muscle autophagy in cirrhosis is mediated by hyperammonemia and may contribute to sar-copenia of cirrhosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E983-E993
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 15 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Autophagometer
  • Human
  • Tyrosine nitration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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