Research Papers:

Cordycepin stimulates autophagy in macrophages and prevents atherosclerotic plaque formation in ApoE-/- mice

Xin Li, Yue Zhou, Xue Zhang, Xiaoxue Cao, Chongming Wu _ and Peng Guo

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:94726-94737. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.21886

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Xin Li1,*, Yue Zhou1,*, Xue Zhang1, Xiaoxue Cao1, Chongming Wu1 and Peng Guo1

1Pharmacology and Toxicology Research Center, Institute of Medicinal Plant Development, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College, Beijing 100193, P.R. China

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Chongming Wu, email: [email protected]

Peng Guo, email: [email protected]

Keywords: cordycepin, atherosclerosis, foam cell, autophagy, AMPK

Received: July 27, 2017     Accepted: September 21, 2017     Published: October 16, 2017


Autophagy in macrophages plays a key role in the pathogenesis and progression of atherosclerosis and has become a potential therapeutic target. Here we show that cordycepin (Cpn), a natural derivative of adenosine, markedly reduced atherosclerotic plaque and ameliorated associated symptoms such as dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia and inflammation in ApoE-/- mice. Supplementation of Cpn dose-dependently inhibited oxLDL-elicited foam cell formation and modulated intracellular cholesterol homeostasis by inhibiting cholesterol uptake and promoting cholesterol efflux in RAW264.7 macrophages. Notably, Cpn exhibited significant stimulating effect on macrophage autophagy, as estimated by western blotting, immunofluorescent staining and autophagic vacuoles observation by transmission electron microscopy. The inhibitive effects of Cpn on foam cell formation were dramatically deteriorated in the presence of various autophagy inhibitors, suggesting that autophagy participate, at least in part, in the atheroprotective role of Cpn. Further investigations using different autophagy inhibitors and specific siRNAs for AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) gamma1 subunit indicated that Cpn may stimulate macrophage autophagy through AMPK-mTOR pathway. Together, our results demonstrated Cpn as a potential therapeutic agent for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis, and the autophagic activity presents a novel mechanism for Cpn-mediated atheroprotection.

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