Inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase 3β activity with lithium in vitro attenuates sepsis-induced changes in muscle protein turnover

Stephen Bertsch, Charles H. Lang, Thomas C. Vary

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29 Scopus citations


Loss of lean body mass is a characteristic feature of the septic response, and the mechanisms responsible for this decrease and means of prevention have not been fully elucidated. The present study tested the hypothesis that in vitro treatment of skeletal muscle with lithium chloride (LiCl), a glycogen synthase kinase (GSK) 3 inhibitor, would reverse both the sepsis-induced increase in muscle protein degradation and inhibition of protein synthesis. Sepsis decreased GSK-3β phosphorylation and increased GSK-3β activity, under basal conditions. Sepsis increased muscle protein degradation, with a concomitant increase in atrogin 1 and MuRF1 mRNA and 26S proteosome activity. Incubation of septic muscle with LiCl completely reversed the increased GSK-3β activity and decreased proteolysis to basal nonseptic values, but only partially reduced proteosome activity and did not diminish atrogene expression. Lithium chloride also did not ameliorate the sepsis-induced increase in LC3-II, a marker for activated autophagy. In contrast, LiCl increased protein synthesis only in nonseptic control muscle. The inability of septic muscle to respond to LiCl was independent of its ability to reverse the sepsis-induced increase in eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 2Bϵ phosphorylation, decreased eIF2B activity, or the reduced phosphorylation of FOXO3, but instead was more closely associated with the continued suppression of mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) kinase activity (e.g., reduced phosphorylation of 4E-BP1 and S6). These data suggest that in vitro lithium treatment, which inhibited GSK-3β activity, (a) effectively reversed the sepsis-induced increase in proteolysis, but only in part by a reduction in the ubiquitin-proteosome pathway and not by a reduction in autophagy; and (b) was ineffective at reversing the sepsis-induced decrease in muscle protein synthesis. This lithium-resistant state seems mediated at the level of mTOR and not eIF2/eIF2B. Hence, use of GSK-3β inhibitors in the treatment of sepsis may not be expected to fully correct the imbalance in muscle protein turnover.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-274
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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