Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Cassis


Sepsis is a leading cause of death among critically ill patients that results in metabolic alterations including hypercatabolism, lipoatrophy, and muscle wasting, contributing to the development of cachexia. Septic cachexia is associated with loss of body weight, fat mass, and lean mass and dysregulated immune function. There are currently no efficacious treatment strategies for septic cachexia, and nutritional interventions have limited success in preventing hypercatabolic wasting. Pyocyanin is a virulence factor produced by sepsis-causing Pseudomonas aeruginosa that has been shown to activate the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), increase inflammation, and produce reactive oxygen species. Thus, pyocyanin represents a novel mechanistic target in the development of septic cachexia.

In Aim 1, we hypothesized that pyocyanin reduces adipocyte differentiation and activates AhR in vitro and in vivo. In vitro, pyocyanin reduced differentiation of 3T3-L1 cells to adipocytes and promoted expression of proinflammatory cytokines. These effects were associated with activation of AhR. We established an in vivo model of pyocyanin-induced cachexia using repeat intraperitoneal exposure to pyocyanin in male and female C57BL/6J mice. Acutely, pyocyanin reduced differentiation of stem cells isolated from adipose stromal vascular tissue and augmented expression of proinflammatory cytokines. Chronically, pyocyanin reduced body weight and fat mass, which was associated with adipose-specific AhR activation. Pyocyanin had sexually dimorphic effects on lipolysis and adipocyte inflammation. These data suggest a role of pyocyanin in adipose cachexia associated with sepsis.

In Aim 2, we hypothesized that pyocyanin activates adipocyte AhR to promote adipose tissue wasting and cachexia. To test this hypothesis, we used a mouse model of adipocyte-specific deficiency of AhR and chronically administered pyocyanin to male and female mice. In male mice with adipocyte AhR deficiency, effects of pyocyanin to promote adipose wasting and cachexia were attenuated. In contrast, female adipocyte AhR deficient mice had an augmented response to pyocyanin to decrease body weight. Results suggest divergent mechanisms of pyocyanin to regulate adiposity and body weight through adipocyte AhR between male and female mice.

These data support a role for pyocyanin in the development of adipose cachexia associated with Pseudomonas aeruginosa sepsis that is partially regulated by adipocyte AhR. Targeting pyocyanin’s effects on adipocytes represents a potentially novel therapeutic approach for septic cachexia that could mitigate septic cachexia, a condition associated with increased risk of mortality in this population.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (P42ES007380), NIH (T32DK007778), and NIH (P30 GM127211).