LKB1 specifies neural crest cell fates through pyruvate-alanine cycling

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Science Advances  17 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaau5106
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau5106


Metabolic processes underlying the development of the neural crest, an embryonic population of multipotent migratory cells, are poorly understood. Here, we report that conditional ablation of the Lkb1 tumor suppressor kinase in mouse neural crest stem cells led to intestinal pseudo-obstruction and hind limb paralysis. This phenotype originated from a postnatal degeneration of the enteric nervous ganglia and from a defective differentiation of Schwann cells. Metabolomic profiling revealed that pyruvate-alanine conversion is enhanced in the absence of Lkb1. Mechanistically, inhibition of alanine transaminases restored glial differentiation in an mTOR-dependent manner, while increased alanine level directly inhibited the glial commitment of neural crest cells. Treatment with the metabolic modulator AICAR suppressed mTOR signaling and prevented Schwann cell and enteric defects of Lkb1 mutant mice. These data uncover a link between pyruvate-alanine cycling and the specification of glial cell fate with potential implications in the understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of neural crest diseases.

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