PPARγ signaling and emerging opportunities for improved therapeutics

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Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) is a ligand-activated nuclear receptor that regulates glucose and lipid metabolism, endothelial function and inflammation. Rosiglitazone (RGZ) and other thiazolidinedione (TZD) synthetic ligands of PPARγ are insulin sensitizers that have been used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. However, undesirable side effects including weight gain, fluid retention, bone loss, congestive heart failure, and a possible increased risk of myocardial infarction and bladder cancer, have limited the use of TZDs. Therefore, there is a need to better understand PPARγ signaling and to develop safer and more effective PPARγ-directed therapeutics. In addition to PPARγ itself, many PPARγ ligands including TZDs bind to and activate G protein-coupled receptor 40 (GPR40), also known as free fatty acid receptor 1. GPR40 signaling activates stress kinase pathways that ultimately regulate downstream PPARγ responses. Recent studies in human endothelial cells have demonstrated that RGZ activation of GPR40 is essential to the optimal propagation of PPARγ genomic signaling. RGZ/GPR40/p38 MAPK signaling induces and activates PPARγ co-activator-1α, and recruits E1A binding protein p300 to the promoters of target genes, markedly enhancing PPARγ-dependent transcription. Therefore in endothelium, GPR40 and PPARγ function as an integrated signaling pathway. However, GPR40 can also activate ERK1/2, a proinflammatory kinase that directly phosphorylates and inactivates PPARγ. Thus the role of GPR40 in PPARγ signaling may have important implications for drug development. Ligands that strongly activate PPARγ, but do not bind to or activate GPR40 may be safer than currently approved PPARγ agonists. Alternatively, biased GPR40 agonists might be sought that activate both p38 MAPK and PPARγ, but not ERK1/2, avoiding its harmful effects on PPARγ signaling, insulin resistance and inflammation. Such next generation drugs might be useful in treating not only type 2 diabetes, but also diverse chronic and acute forms of vascular inflammation such as atherosclerosis and septic shock.

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