Definition of the Neurotoxicity-Associated Metabolic Signature Triggered by Berberine and Other Respiratory Chain Inhibitors

Suciu Ilinca, Delp Johannes, Gutbier Simon, Suess Julian, Henschke Lars, Celardo Ivana, Mayer Thomas U., Amelio Ivano, Leist Marcel
DOI: 10.3390/antiox13010049
PMID: 38247474
Keyword: berberine · combi-omics · metabolomics · mitochondrial complex I · neurotoxicity · screen hits · stress-response


To characterize the hits from a phenotypic neurotoxicity screen, we obtained transcriptomics data for valinomycin, diethylstilbestrol, colchicine, rotenone, 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP), carbaryl and berberine (Ber). For all compounds, the concentration triggering neurite degeneration correlated with the onset of gene expression changes. The mechanistically diverse toxicants caused similar patterns of gene regulation: the responses were dominated by cell de-differentiation and a triggering of canonical stress response pathways driven by ATF4 and NRF2. To obtain more detailed and specific information on the modes-of-action, the effects on energy metabolism (respiration and glycolysis) were measured. Ber, rotenone and MPP inhibited the mitochondrial respiratory chain and they shared complex I as the target. This group of toxicants was further evaluated by metabolomics under experimental conditions that did not deplete ATP. Ber (204 changed metabolites) showed similar effects as MPP and rotenone. The overall metabolic situation was characterized by oxidative stress, an over-abundance of NADH (>1000% increase) and a re-routing of metabolism in order to dispose of the nitrogen resulting from increased amino acid turnover. This unique overall pattern led to the accumulation of metabolites known as biomarkers of neurodegeneration (saccharopine, aminoadipate and branched-chain ketoacids). These findings suggest that neurotoxicity of mitochondrial inhibitors may result from an ensemble of metabolic changes rather than from a simple ATP depletion. The combi-omics approach used here provided richer and more specific MoA data than the more common transcriptomics analysis alone. As Ber, a human drug and food supplement, mimicked closely the mode-of-action of known neurotoxicants, its potential hazard requires further investigation.