Glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase regulates T cell effector function and metabolism
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The aged T cell is characterized by decreased responsiveness to stimulation. Aging is associated with reduced membrane glycerophospholipid (GPL) to cholesterol ratios so it is interesting that deletion of mitochondrial glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase-1 which catalyzes the first step in de novo GPL synthesis induces an aged T cell phenotype in otherwise healthy mice. GPAT-1 could regulate T cell function through three possible mechanisms: maintenance of membrane GPL ratios and membrane based signaling, providing a specific substrate for downstream signaling, or direct regulation of cellular metabolism. Therefore, the goal of this project was to determine whether these mechanisms contribute to the dysfunctional T cell phenotype observed with decreased GPAT-1 activity. T cell stimulation requires significant upregulation of metabolic processes to drive clonal expansion and cytokine production. T cell dysfunction in GPAT-1 knockout mice may be partially explained by altered metabolic function. We found that GPAT-1 KO T cells have significantly reduced basal respiration rates and spare respiratory capacity which is not compensated for by increased glycolytic metabolism suggesting an inherent metabolic defect in GPAT-1 KO T cells. To better understand mechanistically how GPAT-1 regulates T cell function we moved into the Jurkat T cell line and found that shRNA mediated knockdown of the human isoform of GPAT-1 (GPAM) recapitulated key aspects of the dysfunctional T cell phenotype we observed in the mouse including highly significant reductions in IL-2 production and altered membrane GPL to cholesterol ratios. Phosphatidic acid addition was not capable of rescuing these deficiencies suggesting that GPAT-1/GPAM activity is required for proper T cell function. This was the first time that GPAT-1 activity has been shown to be important for T cell function in a non-murine model system and strongly suggests that GPAT-1/GPAM deficiency regulates T cell function at the cellular level. We further demonstrate that phosphorylation of ZAP-70 a proximal effector of T cell activation is significantly reduced in GPAM knock down Jurkat T cells, suggesting that membrane based signaling is dysfunctional. Taken together these data suggest that GPAT-1 is necessary for regulating cellular energy demands in T cells and essential for optimal T cell activation following stimulation.