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Blood test uses DNA strands of dying cells

Curators:  Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

LPBI

 

Hadassah-Developed Blood Test Detects Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer & Brain Damage

http://www.hadassah.org/news-stories/blood-test-detects-neurodegenerative-disease.html

A new blood test that uses the DNA strands of dying cells to detect diabetes, cancer, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative disease has been developed by researchers at Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) and The Hebrew University.

In a study involving 320 patients, the researchers were able to infer cell death in specific tissues by looking at the unique chemical modifications (called methylation patterns) of circulating DNA that these dying cells release. Previously, it had not been possible to measure cell death in specific human tissues non-invasively.

The findings are reported in the March 14, 2016 online edition of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences USA, in an article entitled “Identification of tissue specific cell death using methylation patterns of circulating DNA.”  Prof. Benjamin Glaser, head of Endocrinology at Hadassah, and Dr. Ruth Shemer and Prof. Yuval Dor from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem led an international team in performing the groundbreaking research.

Cell death is a central feature in health and disease. It can signify the early stages of pathology (e.g. a developing tumor or the beginning of an autoimmune or neurodegenerative disease); it can illuminate whether a disease has progressed and whether a particular treatment, such as chemotherapy, is working; and it can alert physicians to unintended toxic effects of treatment or the early rejection of a transplant.

As the researchers relate: “The approach can be adapted to identify cfDNA (cell-free circulating DNA) derived from any cell type in the body, offering a minimally invasive window for diagnosing and monitoring a broad spectrum of human pathologies as well as providing a better understanding of normal tissue dynamics.”

“In the long run,” notes Prof. Glaser, “we envision a new type of blood test aimed at the sensitive detection of tissue damage, even without a-priori suspicion of disease in a specific organ. We believe that such a tool will have broad utility in diagnostic medicine and in the study of human biology.”

The research was performed by Hebrew University students Roni Lehmann-Werman, Daniel Neiman, Hai Zemmour, Joshua Moss and Judith Magenheim, aided by clinicians and scientists from Hadassah Medical Center, Sheba Medical Center, and from institutions in Germany, Sweden, the USA and Canada, who provided precious blood samples from patients.

Scientists have known for decades that dying cells release fragmented DNA into the blood; however, since the DNA sequence of all cells in the body is identical, it had not been possible to determine the tissue of origin of the circulating DNA.  Knowing that the DNA of each cell type carries a unique methylation and that methylation patterns of DNA account for the identity of cells, the researchers were able to use patterns of methylated DNA sequences as biomarkers to detect the origin of the DNA and to identify a specific pathology. For example, they were able to detect evidence of pancreatic beta-cell death in the blood of patients with new-onset type 1 diabetes, oligodendrocyte cell death in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis, brain cell death in patients after traumatic or ischemic brain damage, and exocrine pancreatic tissue cell death in patients with pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis.

Support for the research came from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Human Islet Research Network of the National Institutes of Health, the Sir Zalman Cowen Universities Fund, the DFG (a Trilateral German-Israel-Palestine program), and the Soyka pancreatic cancer fund.

 Identification of tissue-specific cell death using methylation patterns of circulating DNA.
Minimally invasive detection of cell death could prove an invaluable resource in many physiologic and pathologic situations. Cell-free circulating DNA (cfDNA) released from dying cells is emerging as a diagnostic tool for monitoring cancer dynamics and graft failure. However, existing methods rely on differences in DNA sequences in source tissues, so that cell death cannot be identified in tissues with a normal genome. We developed a method of detecting tissue-specific cell death in humans based on tissue-specific methylation patterns in cfDNA. We interrogated tissue-specific methylome databases to identify cell type-specific DNA methylation signatures and developed a method to detect these signatures in mixed DNA samples. We isolated cfDNA from plasma or serum of donors, treated the cfDNA with bisulfite, PCR-amplified the cfDNA, and sequenced it to quantify cfDNA carrying the methylation markers of the cell type of interest. Pancreatic β-cell DNA was identified in the circulation of patients with recently diagnosed type-1 diabetes and islet-graft recipients; oligodendrocyte DNA was identified in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis; neuronal/glial DNA was identified in patients after traumatic brain injury or cardiac arrest; and exocrine pancreas DNA was identified in patients with pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis. This proof-of-concept study demonstrates that the tissue origins of cfDNA and thus the rate of death of specific cell types can be determined in humans. The approach can be adapted to identify cfDNA derived from any cell type in the body, offering a minimally invasive window for diagnosing and monitoring a broad spectrum of human pathologies as well as providing a better understanding of normal tissue dynamics.

While impressively organ specific, they did not specifically prove that the DNA was from an actual dying cell. For example, you would need to see if Troponin levels were elevated when assuming the DNA is from injured myocardium. Also, for brain, though impractical , you’d want to see a brain biopsy or imaging for the brain related cases. The experiment of spiking with DNA was clever though. Also, what is the turnaround time for this test in practical use?

Larry HB

Very good comment. I was reluctant to put this up, but it was of interest and published in PNAS.  Perhaps I can find more information.  Troponin levels would be good for 48 hours, longer than CK and comparable to LD.  What about Nat peptides?

Glutamine and cancer: cell biology, physiology, and clinical opportunities

Christopher T. Hensley,1 Ajla T. Wasti,1,2 

J Clin Invest 2013   https://www.jci.org/articles/view/69600

Glutamine is an abundant and versatile nutrient that participates in energy formation, redox homeostasis, macromolecular synthesis, and signaling in cancer cells. These characteristics make glutamine metabolism an appealing target for new clinical strategies to detect, monitor, and treat cancer. Here we review the metabolic functions of glutamine as a super nutrient and the surprising roles of glutamine in supporting the biological hallmarks of malignancy. We also review recent efforts in imaging and therapeutics to exploit tumor cell glutamine dependence, discuss some of the challenges in this arena, and suggest a disease-focused paradigm to deploy these emerging approaches.

It has been nearly a century since the discovery that tumors display metabolic activities that distinguish them from differentiated, non-proliferating tissues and presumably contribute to their supraphysiological survival and growth (1). Interest in cancer metabolism was boosted by discoveries that oncogenes and tumor suppressors could regulate nutrient metabolism, and that mutations in some metabolic enzymes participate in the development of malignancy (2, 3). The persistent appeal of cancer metabolism as a line of investigation lies both in its ability to uncover fundamental aspects of malignancy and in the translational potential of exploiting cancer metabolism to improve the way we diagnose, monitor, and treat cancer. Furthermore, an improved understanding of how altered metabolism contributes to cancer has a high potential for synergy with translational efforts. For example, the demonstration that asparagine is a conditionally essential nutrient in rapidly growing cancer cells paved the way for L-asparaginase therapy in leukemia. Additionally, the avidity of some tumors for glucose uptake led to the development of 18fluoro-2-deoxyglucose imaging by PET; this in turn stimulated hundreds of studies on the biological underpinnings of tumor glucose metabolism.

There continue to be large gaps in understanding which metabolic pathways are altered in cancer, whether these alterations benefit the tumor in a substantive way, and how this information could be used in clinical oncology. In this Review, we consider glutamine, a highly versatile nutrient whose metabolism has implications for tumor cell biology, metabolic imaging, and perhaps novel therapeutics.

Glutamine in intermediary metabolism

Glutamine metabolism has been reviewed extensively and is briefly outlined here (4, 5). The importance of glutamine as a nutrient in cancer derives from its abilities to donate its nitrogen and carbon into an array of growth-promoting pathways (Figure 1). At concentrations of 0.6–0.9 mmol/l, glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in plasma (6). Although most tissues can synthesize glutamine, during periods of rapid growth or other stresses, demand outpaces supply, and glutamine becomes conditionally essential (7). This requirement for glutamine is particularly true in cancer cells, many of which display oncogene-dependent addictions to glutamine in culture (8). Glutamine catabolism begins with its conversion to glutamate in reactions that either donate the amide nitrogen to biosynthetic pathways or release it as ammonia. The latter reactions are catalyzed by the glutaminases (GLSs), of which several isozymes are encoded by human genes GLS and GLS2 (9). Classical studies revealed that GLS isozymes, particularly those encoded by GLS, are expressed in experimental tumors in rats and mice, where their enzyme activity correlates with growth rate and malignancy. Silencing GLS expression or inhibiting GLS activity is sufficient to delay tumor growth in a number of models (1013). The role of GLS2 in cancer appears to be context specific and regulated by factors that are still incompletely characterized. In some tissues, GLS2 is a p53 target gene and seems to function in tumor suppression (14). On the other hand, GLS2 expression is enhanced in some neuroblastomas, where it contributes to cell survival (15). These observations, coupled with the demonstration that c-Myc stimulates GLS expression (12, 16), position at least some of the GLS isozymes as pro-oncogenic.

Glutamine metabolism as a target for diagnostic imaging and therapy in cancFigure 1Glutamine metabolism as a target for diagnostic imaging and therapy in cancer. Glutamine is imported via SLC1A5 and other transporters, then enters a complex metabolic network by which its carbon and nitrogen are supplied to pathways that promote cell survival and growth. Enzymes discussed in the text are shown in green, and inhibitors that target various aspects of glutamine metabolism are shown in red. Green arrows denote reductive carboxylation. 18F-labeled analogs of glutamine are also under development as PET probes for localization of tumor tissue. AcCoA, acetyl-CoA; DON, 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine; GSH, glutathione; NEAA, nonessential amino acids; ME, malic enzyme; OAA, oxaloacetate; TA, transaminase; 968, compound 968; α-KG, α-ketoglutarate.

Glutamate, the product of the GLS reaction, is a precursor of glutathione, the major cellular antioxidant. It is also the source of amino groups for nonessential amino acids like alanine, aspartate, serine, and glycine, all of which are required for macromolecular synthesis. In glutamine-consuming cells, glutamate is also the major source of α-ketoglutarate, a TCA cycle intermediate and substrate for dioxygenases that modify proteins and DNA. These dioxygenases include prolyl hydroxylases, histone demethylases, and 5-methylcytosine hydroxylases. Their requirement for α-ketoglutarate, although likely accounting for only a small fraction of total α-ketoglutarate utilization, makes this metabolite an essential component of cell signaling and epigenetic networks.

Conversion of glutamate to α-ketoglutarate occurs either through oxidative deamination by glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) in the mitochondrion or by transamination to produce nonessential amino acids in either the cytosol or the mitochondrion. During avid glucose metabolism, the transamination pathway predominates (17). When glucose is scarce, GDH becomes a major pathway to supply glutamine carbon to the TCA cycle, and is required for cell survival (17, 18). Metabolism of glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate in the TCA cycle serves several purposes: it generates reducing equivalents for the electron transport chain (ETC) and oxidative phosphorylation, becoming a major source of energy (19); and it is an important anaplerotic nutrient, feeding net production of oxaloacetate to offset export of intermediates from the cycle to supply anabolism (20). Glutamine oxidation also supports redox homeostasis by supplying carbon to malic enzyme, some isoforms of which produce NADPH (Figure 1). In KRAS-driven pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells, a pathway involving glutamine-dependent NADPH production is essential for redox balance and growth (21). In these cells, glutamine is used to produce aspartate in the mitochondria. This aspartate is then trafficked to the cytosol, where it is deaminated to produce oxaloacetate and then malate, the substrate for malic enzyme.

Recent work has uncovered an unexpected role for glutamine in cells with reduced mitochondrial function. Despite glutamine’s conventional role as a respiratory substrate, several studies demonstrated a persistence of glutamine dependence in cells with permanent mitochondrial dysfunction from mutations in the ETC or TCA cycle, or transient impairment secondary to hypoxia (2225). Under these conditions, glutamine-derived α-ketoglutarate is reductively carboxylated by NADPH-dependent isoforms of isocitrate dehydrogenase to produce isocitrate, citrate, and other TCA cycle intermediates (Figure 1). These conditions broaden glutamine’s utility as a carbon source because it becomes not only a major source of oxaloacetate, but also generates acetyl-CoA in what amounts to a striking rewiring of TCA cycle metabolism.

Glutamine promotes hallmarks of malignancy

Deregulated energetics. One hallmark of cancer cells is aberrant bioenergetics (26). Glutamine’s involvement in the pathways outlined above contributes to a phenotype conducive to energy formation, survival, and growth. In addition to its role in mitochondrial metabolism, glutamine also suppresses expression of thioredoxin-interacting protein, a negative regulator of glucose uptake (27). Thus, glutamine contributes to both of the energy-forming pathways in cancer cells: oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis. Glutamine also modulates hallmarks not traditionally thought to be metabolic, as outlined below. These interactions highlight the complex interplay between glutamine metabolism and many aspects of cell biology.

Sustaining proliferative signaling. Pathological cancer cell growth relies on maintenance of proliferative signaling pathways with increased autonomy relative to non-malignant cells. Several lines of evidence argue that glutamine reinforces activity of these pathways. In some cancer cells, excess glutamine is exported in exchange for leucine and other essential amino acids. This exchange facilitates activation of the serine/threonine kinase mTOR, a major positive regulator of cell growth (28). In addition, glutamine-derived nitrogen is a component of amino sugars, known as hexosamines, that are used to glycosylate growth factor receptors and promote their localization to the cell surface. Disruption of hexosamine synthesis reduces the ability to initiate signaling pathways downstream of growth factors (29).

Enabling replicative immortality. Some aspects of glutamine metabolism oppose senescence and promote replicative immortality in cultured cells. In IMR90 lung fibroblasts, silencing either of two NADPH-generating isoforms of malic enzyme (ME1, ME2) rapidly induced senescence, while malic enzyme overexpression suppressed senescence (30). Both malic enzyme isoforms are repressed at the transcriptional level by p53 and contribute to enhanced levels of glutamine consumption and NADPH production in p53-deficient cells. The ability of p53-replete cells to resist senescence required the expression of ME1 and ME2, and silencing either enzyme reduced the growth of TP53+/+ and, to a lesser degree, TP53–/– tumors (30). These observations position malic enzymes as potential therapeutic targets.

Resisting cell death. Although many cancer cells require glutamine for survival, cells with enhanced expression of Myc oncoproteins are particularly sensitive to glutamine deprivation (8, 12, 16). In these cells, glutamine deprivation induces depletion of TCA cycle intermediates, depression of ATP levels, delayed growth, diminished glutathione pools, and apoptosis. Myc drives glutamine uptake and catabolism by activating the expression of genes involved in glutamine metabolism, including GLSand SLC1A5, which encodes the Na+-dependent amino acid transporter ASCT2 (12, 16). SilencingGLS mimicked some of the effects of glutamine deprivation, including growth suppression in Myc-expressing cells and tumors (10, 12). MYCN amplification occurs in 20%–25% of neuroblastomas and is correlated with poor outcome (31). In cells with high N-Myc levels, glutamine deprivation triggered an ATF4-dependent induction of apoptosis that could be prevented by restoring downstream metabolites oxaloacetate and α-ketoglutarate (15). In this model, pharmacological activation of ATF4, inhibition of glutamine metabolic enzymes, or combinations of these treatments mimicked the effects of glutamine deprivation in cells and suppressed growth of MYCN-amplified subcutaneous and transgenic tumors in mice.

The PKC isoform PKC-ζ also regulates glutamine metabolism. Loss of PKC-ζ enhances glutamine utilization and enables cells to survive glucose deprivation (32). This effect requires flux of carbon and nitrogen from glutamine into serine. PKC-ζ reduces the expression of phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, an enzyme required for glutamine-dependent serine biosynthesis, and also phosphorylates and inactivates this enzyme. Thus, PKC-ζ loss, which promotes intestinal tumorigenesis in mice, enables cells to alter glutamine metabolism in response to nutrient stress.

Invasion and metastasis. Loss of the epithelial cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin is a component of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and is sufficient to induce migration, invasion, and tumor progression (33, 34). Addiction to glutamine may oppose this process because glutamine favors stabilization of tight junctions in some cells (35). Furthermore, the selection of breast cancer cells with the ability to grow without glutamine yielded highly adaptable subpopulations with enhanced mesenchymal marker expression and improved capacity for anchorage-independent growth, therapeutic resistance, and metastasis in vivo (36). It is unknown whether this result reflects a primary role for glutamine in suppressing these markers of aggressiveness in breast cancer, or whether prolonged glutamine deprivation selects for cells with enhanced fitness across a number of phenotypes.

Organ-specific glutamine metabolism in health and disease

As a major player in carbon and nitrogen transport, glutamine metabolism displays complex inter-organ dynamics, with some organs functioning as net producers and others as consumers (Figure 2). Organ-specific glutamine metabolism has frequently been studied in humans and animal models by measuring the arteriovenous difference in plasma glutamine abundance. In healthy subjects, the plasma glutamine pool is largely the result of release from skeletal muscle (3739). In rats, the lungs are comparable to muscle in terms of glutamine production (40, 41), and human lungs also have the capacity for marked glutamine release, although such release is most prominent in times of stress (42, 43). Stress-induced release from the lung is regulated by an induction of glutamine synthase expression as a consequence of glucocorticoid signaling and other mechanisms (44, 45). Although this results in a small arteriovenous difference, the overall release of glutamine is significant because of the large pulmonary perfusion. In rats and humans, adipose tissue is a minor but potentially important source of glutamine (46, 47). The liver has the capacity to synthesize or catabolize glutamine, with these activities subject both to regional heterogeneity among hepatocytes and regulatory effects of systemic acidosis and hyperammonemia. However, the liver does not appear to be a major contributor to the plasma glutamine pool in healthy rats and humans (39, 48, 49).

Model for inter-organ glutamine metabolism in health and cancer.Figure 2Model for inter-organ glutamine metabolism in health and cancer. Organs that release glutamine into the bloodstream are shown in green, and those that consume glutamine are in red; the shade denotes magnitude of consumption/release. For some organs (liver, kidneys), evidence from model systems and/or human studies suggests that there is a change in net glutamine flux during tumorigenesis.

Glutamine consumption occurs largely in the gut and kidney. The organs of the gastrointestinal tract drained by the portal vein, particularly the small intestine, are major consumers of plasma glutamine in both rats and humans (37, 38, 49, 50). Enterocytes oxidize more than half of glutamine carbon to CO2, accounting for a third of the respiration of these cells in fasting animals (51). The kidney consumes net quantities of glutamine to maintain acid-base balance (37, 38, 52, 53). During acidosis, the kidneys substantially increase their uptake of glutamine, cleaving it by GLS to produce ammonia, which is excreted along with organic acids to maintain physiologic pH (52, 54). Glutamine is also a major metabolic substrate in lymphocytes and macrophages, at least during mitogenic stimulation of primary cells in culture (5557).

Importantly, cancer seems to cause major changes in inter-organ glutamine trafficking (Figure 2). Currently, much work in this area is derived from studies in methylcholanthrene-induced fibrosarcoma in the rat, a model of an aggressively growing, glutamine-consuming tumor. In this model, fibrosarcoma induces skeletal muscle expression of glutamine synthetase and greatly increases the release of glutamine into the circulation. As the tumor increases in size, intramuscular glutamine pools are depleted in association with loss of lean muscle mass, mimicking the cachectic phenotype of humans in advanced stages of cancer (52). Simultaneously, both the liver and the kidneys become net glutamine exporters, although the hepatic effect may be diminished as the tumor size becomes very large (48, 49, 52). Glutamine utilization by organs supplied by the portal vein is diminished in cancer (48). In addition to its function as a nutrient for the tumor itself, and possibly for cancer-associated immune cells, glutamine provides additional, indirect metabolic benefits to both the tumor and the host. For example, glutamine was used as a gluconeogenic substrate in cachectic mice with large orthotopic gliomas, providing a significant source of carbon in the plasma glucose pool (58). This glucose was taken up and metabolized by the tumor to produce lactate and to supply the TCA cycle.

It will be valuable to extend work in human inter-organ glutamine trafficking, both in healthy subjects and in cancer patients. Such studies will likely produce a better understanding of the pathophysiology of cancer cachexia, a major source of morbidity and mortality. Research in this area should also aid in the anticipation of organ-specific toxicities of drugs designed to interfere with glutamine metabolism. Alterations of glutamine handling in cancer may induce a different spectrum of toxicities compared with healthy subjects.

Tumors differ according to their need for glutamine

One important consideration is that not all cancer cells need an exogenous supply of glutamine. A panel of lung cancer cell lines displayed significant variability in their response to glutamine deprivation, with some cells possessing almost complete independence (59). Breast cancer cells also demonstrate systematic differences in glutamine dependence, with basal-type cells tending to be glutamine dependent and luminal-type cells tending to be glutamine independent (60). Resistance to glutamine deprivation is associated with the ability to synthesize glutamine de novo and/or to engage alternative pathways of anaplerosis (10, 60).

Tumors also display variable levels of glutamine metabolism in vivo. A study of orthotopic gliomas revealed that genetically diverse, human-derived tumors took up glutamine in the mouse brain but did not catabolize it (58). Rather, the tumors synthesized glutamine de novo and used pyruvate carboxylation for anaplerosis. Cells derived from these tumors did not require glutamine to survive or proliferate when cultured ex vivo. Glutamine synthesis from glucose was also a prominent feature of primary gliomas in human subjects infused with 13C-glucose at the time of surgical resection (61). Furthermore, an analysis of glutamine metabolism in lung and liver tumors revealed that both the tissue of origin and the oncogene influence whether the tumor produces or consumes glutamine (62). MET-induced hepatic tumors produced glutamine, whereas Myc-induced liver tumors catabolized it. In the lung, however, Myc expression was associated with glutamine accumulation.

This variability makes it imperative to develop ways to predict which tumors have the highest likelihood of responding to inhibitors of glutamine metabolism. Methods to image or otherwise quantify glutamine metabolism in vivo would be useful in this regard (63). Infusions of pre-surgical subjects with isotopically labeled glutamine, followed by extraction of metabolites from the tumor and analysis of 13C enrichment, can be used to detect both glutamine uptake and catabolism (58, 62). However, this approach requires a specimen of the tumor to be obtained. Approaches for glutamine-based imaging, which avoid this problem, include a number of glutamine analogs compatible with PET. Although glutamine could in principle be imaged using the radioisotopes 11C, 13N, or 18F, the relatively long half-life of the latter increases its appeal. In mice, 18F-(2S, 4R)4-fluoroglutamine is avidly taken up by tumors derived from highly glutaminolytic cells, and by glutamine-consuming organs including the intestine, kidney, liver, and pancreas (64). Labeled analogs of glutamate are also taken up by some tumors (65, 66). One of these, (4S)-4-(3-[18F] fluoropropyl)-L-glutamate (18F-FSPG, also called BAY 94-9392), was evaluated in small clinical trials involving patients with several types of cancer (65, 67). This analog enters the cell through the cystine/glutamate exchange transporter (xCtransport system), which is linked to glutathione biosynthesis (68). The analog was well tolerated, with high tumor detection rates and good tumor-to-background ratios in hepatocellular carcinoma and lung cancer.

PET approaches detect analog uptake and retention but cannot provide information about downstream metabolism. Analysis of hyperpolarized nuclei can provide a real-time view of enzyme-catalyzed reactions. This technique involves redistribution of the populations of energy levels of a nucleus (e.g., 13C, 15N), resulting in a gain in magnetic resonance signal that can temporarily exceed 10,000-fold (69). This gain in signal enables rapid detection of both the labeled molecule and its downstream metabolites. Glutamine has been hyperpolarized on 15N and 13C (70, 71). In the latter case, the conversion of hyperpolarized glutamine to glutamate could be detected in intact hepatoma cells (70). If these analogs are translated to clinical studies, they might provide a dynamic view of the proximal reactions of glutaminolysis in vivo.

Pharmacological strategies to inhibit glutamine metabolism in cancer

Efforts to inhibit glutamine metabolism using amino acid analogs have an extensive history, including evaluation in clinical trials. Acivicin, 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine, and azaserine, three of the most widely studied analogs (Figure 1), all demonstrated variable degrees of gastrointestinal toxicity, myelosuppression, and neurotoxicity (72). Because these agents non-selectively target glutamine-consuming processes, recent interest has focused on developing methods directed at specific nodes of glutamine metabolism. First, ASCT2, the Na+-dependent neutral amino acid transporter encoded by SLC1A5, is broadly expressed in lung cancer cell lines and accounts for a majority of glutamine transport in those cells (Figure 1). It has been shown that γ-L-glutamyl-p-nitroanilide (GPNA) inhibits this transporter and limits lung cancer cell growth (73). Additional interest in GPNA lies in its ability to enhance the uptake of drugs imported via the monocarboxylate transporter MCT1. Suppressing glutamine uptake with GPNA enhances MCT1 stability and stimulates uptake of the glycolytic inhibitor 3-bromopyruvate (3-BrPyr) (74, 75). Because enforced MCT1 overexpression is sufficient to sensitize tumor xenografts to 3-BrPyr (76), GPNA may have a place in 3-BrPyr–based therapeutic regimens.

Two inhibitors of GLS isoforms have been characterized in recent years (Figure 1). Compound 968, an inhibitor of the GLS-encoded splice isoform GAC, inhibits the transformation of fibroblasts by oncogenic RhoGTPases and delays the growth of GLS-expressing lymphoma xenografts (13). Bis-2-(5-phenylacetamido-1,2,4-thiadiazol-2-yl)ethyl sulfide (BPTES) also potently inhibits GLS isoforms encoded by GLS (77). BPTES impairs ATP levels and growth rates of P493 lymphoma cells under both normoxic and hypoxic conditions and suppresses the growth of P493-derived xenografts (78).

Evidence also supports a role for targeting the flux from glutamate to α-ketoglutarate, although no potent, specific inhibitors yet exist to inhibit these enzymes in intact cells. Aminooxyacetate (AOA) inhibits aminotransferases non-specifically, but milliomolar doses are typically used to achieve this effect in cultured cells (Figure 1). Nevertheless, AOA has demonstrated efficacy in both breast adenocarcinoma xenografts and autochthonous neuroblastomas in mice (15, 79). Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a green tea polyphenol, has numerous pharmacological effects, one of which is to inhibit GDH (80). The effects of EGCG on GDH have been used to kill glutamine-addicted cancer cells during glucose deprivation or glycolytic inhibition (17, 18) and to suppress growth of neuroblastoma xenografts (15).

A paradigm to exploit glutamine metabolism in cancer

Recent advances in glutamine-based imaging, coupled with the successful application of glutamine metabolic inhibitors in mouse models of cancer, make it possible to conceive of treatment plans that feature consideration of tumor glutamine utilization. A key challenge will be predicting which tumors are most likely to respond to inhibitors of glutamine metabolism. Neuroblastoma is used here as an example of a tumor in which evidence supports the utility of strategies that would involve both glutamine-based imaging and therapy (Figure 3). Neuroblastoma is the second most common extracranial solid malignancy of childhood. High-risk neuroblastoma is defined by age, stage, and biological features of the tumor, including MYCN amplification, which occurs in some 20%–25% of cases (31). Because MYCN-amplified tumor cells require glutamine catabolism for survival and growth (15), glutamine-based PET at the time of standard diagnostic imaging could help predict which tumors would be likely to respond to inhibitors of glutamine metabolism. Infusion of 13C-glutamine coordinated with the diagnostic biopsy could then enable inspection of 13C enrichment in glutamine-derived metabolites from the tumor, confirming the activity of glutamine catabolic pathways. Following on evidence from mouse models of neuroblastoma, treatment could then include agents directed against glutamine catabolism (15). Of note, some tumors were sensitive to the ATF4 agonist fenretinide (FRT), alone or in combination with EGCG. Importantly, FRT has already been the focus of a Phase I clinical trial in children with solid tumors, including neuroblastoma, and was fairly well tolerated (81).

A strategy to integrate glutamine metabolism into the diagnosis, classificaFigure 3A strategy to integrate glutamine metabolism into the diagnosis, classification, treatment, and monitoring of neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma commonly presents in children as an abdominal mass. A standard evaluation of a child with suspected neuroblastoma includes measurement of urine catecholamines, a bone scan, and full-body imaging with meta-iodobenzylguanidine (MIBG), all of which contribute to diagnosis and disease staging. In animal models, a subset of these tumors requires glutamine metabolism. This finding implies that approaches to image, quantify, or block glutamine metabolism (highlighted in red) in human neuroblastoma could be incorporated into the diagnosis and management of this disease. In particular, glutamine metabolic studies may help predict which tumors would respond to therapies targeting glutamine metabolism. HVA, homovanillic acid; VMA, vanillylmandelic acid.

Conclusions

Glutamine is a versatile nutrient required for the survival and growth of a potentially large subset of tumors. Work over the next several years should produce a more accurate picture of the molecular determinants of glutamine addiction and the identification of death pathways that execute cells when glutamine catabolism is impaired. Advancement of glutamine-based imaging into clinical practice should soon make it possible to differentiate tumors that take up glutamine from those that do not. Finally, the development of safe, high-potency inhibitors of key metabolic nodes should facilitate therapeutic regimens featuring inhibition of glutamine metabolism.

Therapeutic strategies impacting cancer cell glutamine metabolism

The metabolic adaptations that support oncogenic growth can also render cancer cells dependent on certain nutrients. Along with the Warburg effect, increased utilization of glutamine is one of the metabolic hallmarks of the transformed state. Glutamine catabolism is positively regulated by multiple oncogenic signals, including those transmitted by the Rho family of GTPases and by c-Myc. The recent identification of mechanistically distinct inhibitors of glutaminase, which can selectively block cellular transformation, has revived interest in the possibility of targeting glutamine metabolism in cancer therapy. Here, we outline the regulation and roles of glutamine metabolism within cancer cells and discuss possible strategies for, and the consequences of, impacting these processes therapeutically.

Cancer cell metabolism & glutamine addiction

Interest in the metabolic changes characteristic of malignant transformation has undergone a renaissance of sorts in the cancer biology and pharmaceutical communities. However, the recognition that an important connection exists between cellular metabolism and cancer began nearly a century ago with the work of Otto Warburg [13]. Warburg found that rapidly proliferating tumor cells exhibit elevated glucose uptake and glycolytic flux, and furthermore that much of the pyruvate generated by glycolysis is reduced to lactate rather than undergoing mitochondrial oxidation via the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle (Figure 1). This phenomenon persists even under aerobic conditions (‘aerobic glycolysis’), and is known as the Warburg effect [4]. Warburg proposed that aerobic glycolysis was caused by defective mitochondria in cancer cells, but it is now known that mitochondrial dysfunction is relatively rare and that most tumors have an unimpaired capacity for oxidative phosphorylation [5]. In fact, the most important selective advantages provided by the Warburg effect are still debated. Although aerobic glycolysis is an inefficient way to produce ATP (2 ATP/glucose vs ~36 ATP/glucose by complete oxidation), a high glycolytic flux can generate ATP rapidly and furthermore can provide a biosynthetic advantage by supplying precursors and reducing equivalents for the synthesis of macromolecules [4]. The mechanisms underlying the Warburg effect are also not yet fully resolved, although it is increasingly clear that a number of oncogenes and tumor suppressors contribute to the phenomenon. The PI3K/Akt/mTORC1 signaling axis, for example, is a key regulator of aerobic glycolysis and biosynthesis, driving the surface expression of nutrient transporters and the upregulation of glycolytic enzymes [6]. The HIF transcription factor also upregulates expression of glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes in response to hypoxia and growth factors (or loss of the von Hippel–Landau [VHL] tumor suppressor), and the oncogenic transcription factor c-Myc similarly induces expression of proteins important for glycolysis [6].

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http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4154374/bin/nihms610340f1.jpg

Cell proliferation requires metabolic reprogramming

A second major change in the metabolic program of many cancer cells, and the primary focus of this review, is the alteration of glutamine metabolism. Glutamine is the major carrier of nitrogen between organs, and the most abundant amino acid in plasma [7]. It is also a key nutrient for numerous intracellular processes including oxidative metabolism and ATP generation, biosynthesis of proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, and also redox homeostasis and the regulation of signal transduction pathways [810]. Although most mammalian cells are capable of synthesizing glutamine, the demand for this amino acid can become so great during rapid proliferation that an additional extracellular supply is required; hence glutamine is considered conditionally essential [11]. Indeed, many cancer cells are ‘glutamine addicted’, and cannot survive in the absence of an exogenous glutamine supply [12,13].

An important step in the elevation of glutamine catabolism is the activation of the mitochondrial enzyme glutaminase, which catalyzes the hydrolysis of glutamine to generate glutamate and ammonium. The subsequent deamination of glutamate releases a second ammonium to yield the TCA cycle intermediate α-ketoglutarate (α-KG), a reaction catalyzed by glutamate dehydrogenase (GLUD1). This series of reactions is particularly important in rapidly proliferating cells, in which a considerable proportion of the TCA cycle metabolite citrate is exported from mitochondria in order to generate cytosolic acetyl-CoA for lipid biosynthesis [14]. Replenishment of TCA cycle intermediates (anaplerosis) is therefore required, and glutamine often serves as the key anaplerotic substrate through its conversion via glutamate to α-KG (Figure 1).

Mammals express two genes for glutaminase enzymes [1517]. The GLS gene encodes a protein initially characterized in kidney and thus called kidney-type glutaminase (KGA), although this enzyme and its shorter splice variant glutaminase C (GAC), collectively referred to as GLS, are now known to be widely distributed [1820]. The KGA and GAC isoforms share identical N-terminal and catalytic domains, encoded by exons 1–14 of the GLS gene, but have distinct C-termini derived from exon 15 in the case of GAC and exons 16–19 in the case of KGA [21]. Upregulation of GLS, in particular the GAC iso-form, is common in cancer cells and the degree of GLS overexpression correlates with both the degree of malignancy and the tumor grade in human breast cancer samples [22,23]. The GLS2 gene encodes a protein originally discovered and characterized in liver, which has thus been referred to as liver-type glutaminase and, more recently, as glutaminase 2 (GLS2) [15].

Both KGA and GAC can be activated by inorganic phosphate (Pi), and this activation correlates closely with a dimer-to-tetramer transition for each enzyme [7, 22]. As the concentration of Pi is raised the apparent catalytic constant, kcatapp, increases and simultaneously the apparent Michaelis constant, Kmapp, decreases; consequently the catalytic efficiency rises dramatically, especially in the case of GAC [22]. x-ray crystal structures of GAC and KGA in different states indicate that the positioning of a key loop within each monomer (Glu312 to Pro329), located between the active site and the dimer–dimer interface, is critical for mediating tetramerization-induced activation [22,24]. Given the ability of Pi to promote tetramerization and activation of GAC and KGA, it has been proposed that the elevated mitochondrial Pi levels found under hypoxic conditions, which are commonly encountered in the tumor microenvironment, could be one trigger for GLS activation [22].

Oncogenic alterations affecting glutamine metabolism

At least two classes of cellular signals regulate glutamine metabolism, influencing both the expression level and the enzymatic activity of GLS. The transcription factor c-Myc can suppress the expression of microRNAs miR-23a and miR-23b and, in doing so, upregulates GLS (specifically GAC) expression [13,25]. Independent of changes in GAC expression, oncogenic diffuse B-cell lymphoma protein (Dbl), a GEF for Rho GTPases and oncogenic variants of downstream Rho GTPases are able to signal to activate GAC in a manner that is dependent on NF-κB [23]. Mitochondria isolated from Dbl- or Rho GTPase-transformed NIH-3T3 fibroblasts demonstrate significantly higher basal glutaminase activity than mitochondria isolated from non-transformed cells [23]. Furthermore, the enzymatic activity of GAC immunoprecipitated from Dbl-transformed cells is elevated relative to GAC from non-transformed cells, indicating the presence of activating post-translational modification(s) [23]. Indeed, when GAC isolated from Dbl-transformed cells is treated with alkaline phosphatase, basal enzymatic activity is dramatically reduced [23]. Collectively, these findings point to phosphorylation events underlying the activation of GAC in transformed cells. Similarly, phosphorylation-dependent regulation of KGA activity downstream of the Raf-Mek-Erk signaling axis occurs in response to EGF stimulation [24].

It is becoming clear that, in addition to c-Myc and Dbl, many other oncogenic signals and environmental conditions can impact cellular glutamine metabolism. Loss of the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor, for example, leads to a marked increase in glutamine uptake and catabolism, and renders mouse embryonic fibroblasts dependent on exogenous glutamine [26]. Cells transformed by KRAS also illustrate increased expression of genes associated with glutamine metabolism and a corresponding increased utilization of glutamine for anabolic synthesis [27]. In fact, KRAS signaling appears to induce glutamine dependence, since the deleterious effects of glutamine withdrawal in KRAS-driven cells can be rescued by expression of a dominant-negative GEF for Ras [28]. Downstream of Ras, the Raf-MEK-ERK signaling pathway has been implicated in the upregulation of glutamine uptake and metabolism [24,29]. A recent study using human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells identified a novel KRAS-regulated metabolic pathway, through which glutamine supports cell growth [30]. Proliferation of KRAS-mutant pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells depends on GLS-catalyzed production of glutamate, but not on downstream deamination of glutamate to α-KG; instead, transaminase-mediated glutamate metabolism is essential for growth. Glutamine-derived aspartate is subsequently transported into the cytoplasm where it is converted by aspartate transaminase into oxaloacetate, which can be used to generate malate and pyruvate. The series of reactions maintains NADPH levels and thus the cellular redox state [30].

Other recent studies have revealed that another pathway for glutamine metabolism can be essential under hypoxic conditions, and also in cancer cells with mitochondrial defects or loss of the VHL tumor suppressor [3135]. In these situations, glutamine-derived α-KG undergoes reductive carboxylation by IDH1 or IDH2 to generate citrate, which can be exported from mitochondria to support lipogenesis (Figure 1). Activation of HIF is both necessary and sufficient for driving the reductive carboxylation phenotype in renal cell carcinoma, and suppression of HIF activity can induce a switch from glutamine-mediated lipogenesis back to glucose-mediated lipogenesis [32,35]. Furthermore, loss of VHL and consequent downstream activation of HIF renders renal cell carcinoma cells sensitive to inhibitors of GLS [35]. Evidently, the metabolic routes through which glutamine supports cancer cell proliferation vary with genetic background and with microenvironmental conditions. Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that diverse oncogenic signals promote glutamine utilization and furthermore that hypoxia, a common condition within poorly vascularized tumors, increases glutamine dependence.

…….

Consistent with the critical role of TCA cycle anaplerosis in cancer cell proliferation, a range of glutamine-dependent cancer cell lines are sensitive to silencing or inhibition of GLS [23,93]. Although loss of GLS suppresses proliferation, in some cases the induction of a compensatory anaplerotic mechanism mediated by pyruvate carboxylase (PC) allows the use of glucose- rather than glutamine-derived carbon for anaplerosis [93]. Low glutamine conditions render glioblastoma cells completely dependent on PC for proliferation; reciprocally, glucose deprivation causes them to become dependent on GLUD1, presumably as a mediator of glutamine-dependent anaplerosis [94]. These studies provide insight into the possibility of inhibiting glutamine-dependent TCA cycle anaplerosis (e.g., with 968 or BPTES) and indicate that high expression of PC could represent a means of resistance to GLS inhibitors.

In c-Myc-induced human Burkitt lymphoma P493 cells, entry of glucose-derived carbon into the TCA cycle is attenuated under hypoxia, whereas glutamine oxidation via the TCA cycle persists [95]. Upon complete withdrawal of glucose, the TCA cycle continues to function and is driven by glutamine. The proportions of viable and proliferating cell populations are almost identical in glucose-replete and -deplete conditions so long as glutamine is present. Inhibition of GLS by BPTES causes a decrease in ATP and glutathione levels, with a simultaneous increase in reactive oxygen species production. Strikingly, whereas BPTES treatment under aerobic conditions suppresses proliferation, under hypoxic conditions it results in cell death, an effect ascribed to glutamine’s critical roles in alleviating oxidative stress in addition to supporting bioenergetics.

In addition to deamidation, glutamine-derived carbon can also reach the TCA cycle through transamination [96], and recent studies indicate that inhibition of this process could be a promising strategy for cancer treatment [30,97,98]. The transaminase inhibitor amino-oxyacetate selectively suppresses proliferation of the aggressive breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 relative to normal human mammary epithelial cells, and similar effects were observed with siRNA knockdown of aspartate transaminase [97]. Treatment with amino-oxyacetate killed glutamine-dependent glioblastoma cells, in a manner that could be rescued by α-KG and was dependent on c-Myc expression [13]. Transaminase inhibitors have also been found to suppress both anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent growth of lung carcinoma cells [98].

Reductive carboxylation

The central metabolic precursor for fatty acid biosynthesis is acetyl-CoA, which can be generated from pyruvate in the mitochondria by pyruvate dehydrogenase. Since acetyl-CoA cannot cross the inner mitochondrial membrane, it is exported to the cytosol via the citrate shuttle following its condensation with oxaloacetate in the TCA cycle (Figure 3). In the cytosol, citrate is converted back to acetyl-CoA and oxaloacetate in a reaction catalyzed by ATP citrate lyase. In addition to its synthesis from glycolytic pyruvate, citrate can also be generated by reductive carboxylation of α-KG [99]. Across a range of cancer cell lines, 10–25% of lipogenic acetyl-CoA is generated from glutamine via this reductive pathway; indeed, reductive metabolism is the primary route for incorporation of glutamine, glutamate and α-KG carbon into lipids [32]. Some of the reductive carboxylation of α-KG is catalyzed by cytosolic IDH1, as well as by mitochondrial IDH2 and/or IDH3.

In A549 lung carcinoma cells, glutamine dependence and reductive carboxylation flux increases under hypoxic conditions [32,34], such that glutamine-derived α-KG accounts for approximately 80% of the carbon used for de novo lipogenesis. Similarly, in melanoma cells, the major source of carbon for acetyl-CoA, citrate and fatty acids switches from glucose under normoxia to glutamine (via reductive carboxylation) under hypoxia [31]. The hypoxic switch to reductive glutamine metabolism is dependent on HIF, and constitutive activation of HIF is sufficient to induce the preferential reductive metabolism of α-KG even under normoxic conditions [32]. Tumor cells with mitochondrial defects, such as electron-transport chain mutations/inhibition, also use glutamine-dependent reductive carboxylation as the major pathway for citrate generation, and loss of electron-transport chain activity is sufficient to induce a switch from glucose to glutamine as the primary source of lipogenic carbon [33].

Together these studies indicate that mitochondrial defects/inhibition, and/or hypoxia, might sensitize cancer cells to inhibition of GLS. The fact that P493 cells are more sensitive to BPTES under hypoxic conditions could in part be explained by an increased reliance on glutamine-dependent reductive carboxylation for lipogenesis [95]. Intriguingly, cancer cells harboring neoenzymatic mutations in IDH1, which results in production of the oncometabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate, are also sensitized to GLS inhibition [100]. 2-hydroxyglutarate is generated primarily from glutamine-derived α-KG [100,101], and therefore tumors expressing mutant IDH might be especially susceptible to alterations in α-KG levels.

……

As with all therapies, the potential side effects of strategies impacting glutamine metabolism must be seriously considered. The widespread use of l-asparaginase to lower plasma asparagine and glutamine concentrations in ALL patients demonstrates the potential for glutamine metabolism to be safely targeted, and also sheds light on potential toxicological consequences. For example, glutamine is known to be essential for the proliferation of lymphocytes, macrophages and neutrophils, and immunosuppression is a known side effect of l-asparaginase treatment, requiring close monitoring [11,105]. Evidence from early trials using glutamine-mimetic anti-metabolites, such as l-DON, indicates that these unselective molecules can cause excessive gastrointestinal toxicity and neurotoxicity. Within the brain, GLS converts glutamine into the neurotransmitter glutamate in neurons; astrocytes then take up synaptically released glutamate and convert it back to glutamine, which is subsequently transported back to neurons [106,107].

……

It has become clear during the past decade that altered metabolism plays a critical, in some cases even causal, role in the development and maintenance of cancers. It is now accepted that virtually all oncogenes and tumor suppressors impact metabolic pathways [5]. Furthermore, mutations in certain metabolic enzymes (e.g., isocitrate dehydrogenase, succinate dehydrogenase and fumarate hydratase) are associated with both familial and sporadic human cancers [113]. With this realization has come a renewed interest in the possibility of selectively targeting the metabolism of cancer cells as a therapeutic strategy. The use of l-asparaginase to treat ALL by depleting plasma asparagine and glutamine levels and the promising outcome of the first use of dichloroacetate (which acts, at least in part, through its inhibition of the metabolic enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase) in glioblastoma patients [114,115], support the notion that cancer metabolism can be safely and effectively targeted in the clinic. The metabolic adaptations of cancer cells must balance the requirements for modestly increased ATP synthesis, dramatically upregulated macromolecular biosynthesis and maintenance of redox balance. By serving as a carbon source for energy generation, a carbon and nitrogen source for biosynthesis and a precursor of the cellular antioxidant glutathione, glutamine is able to contribute to each of these requirements.

The countless combinations of genetic alterations that are found in human neo-plasias mean that there is not a single rigid metabolic program that is characteristic of all transformed cells. This perhaps explains why some current anti-metabolite chemotherapies (e.g., those targeting nucleotide synthesis) are effective only for certain malignancies. A deeper understanding of the metabolic alterations within specific genetic contexts will allow for better-targeted therapeutic interventions. Furthermore, it seems highly likely that combination therapies based on drug synergisms will be especially important for exploiting therapeutic windows within which cancer cells, but not normal cells, are impacted [37]. Glucose and glutamine metabolic pathways, for example, might be able to compensate for one another under some circumstances. When glucose metabolism is impaired in glioblastoma cells, glutamine catabolism becomes essential for survival [94]; reciprocally, suppression of GLS expression causes cells to become fully dependent on glucose-driven TCA cycle anaplerosis via PC [93]. The implication is that PC inhibition could synergize with GLS inhibition.

A topic warranting further investigation is the role that GLS2 plays in cellular metabolism. GLS, in particular the GAC isoform, is upregulated downstream of oncogenes and downregulated by tumor suppressors, and is essential for growth of many cancer cells. In contrast, GLS2 is activated by the ‘universal’ tumor suppressor p53, and furthermore is significantly downregulated in liver tumors and can block transformed characteristics of some cancer cells when overexpressed [116118]. Emphasizing the importance of genetic context, it was recently reported that GLS2 is significantly upregulated in neuroblastomas overexpressing N-Myc [119]. There are various possible explanations for the apparently different roles of two enzymes that catalyze the same reaction. Because the regulation of GLS and GLS2 is distinct, they will be called up under different conditions. The two enzymes have different kinetic characteristics, and therefore might influence energy metabolism and antioxidant defense in different manners [20]. There is also evidence that GLS2 may act, directly or indirectly, as a transcription factor [118]. Finally, it is possible that the different interactions of GLS and GLS2 with other proteins are responsible for their apparently different roles.

 

Mitochondria as biosynthetic factories for cancer proliferation

Christopher S Ahn and Christian M Metallo

Cancer & Metabolism (2015) 3:1      http://dx.doi.org:/10.1186/s40170-015-0128-2

Unchecked growth and proliferation is a hallmark of cancer, and numerous oncogenic mutations reprogram cellular metabolism to fuel these processes. As a central metabolic organelle, mitochondria execute critical biochemical functions for the synthesis of fundamental cellular components, including fatty acids, amino acids, and nucleotides. Despite the extensive interest in the glycolytic phenotype of many cancer cells, tumors contain fully functional mitochondria that support proliferation and survival. Furthermore, tumor cells commonly increase flux through one or more mitochondrial pathways, and pharmacological inhibition of mitochondrial metabolism is emerging as a potential therapeutic strategy in some cancers. Here, we review the biosynthetic roles of mitochondrial metabolism in tumors and highlight specific cancers where these processes are activated.

………………

Recent characterizations of metabolic enzymes as tumor suppressors and oncogene-driven metabolic reprogramming have reinvigorated interest in cancer metabolism. Although therapies targeting metabolic processes have long been a staple in cancer treatment (e.g. inhibition of folate metabolism via methotrexate), the focused therapeutic potential surrounding these findings have generated a renewed appreciation for Otto Warburg’s work almost a century ago. Warburg observed that tumor cells ferment much of the glucose taken up during growth to lactate, thus using glycolysis as a major means of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) regeneration [1]. However, the observation of decreased respiration in cancer cells and idea that “the respiration of all cancer cells is damaged” belies the critical role of mitochondria in biosynthesis and cell survival [1]. On the contrary, functional mitochondria are present in all proliferative cells within our body (including all tumors), as they are responsible for converting the diverse nutrients available to cells into the fundamental building blocks required for cell growth. These organelles execute numerous functions in cancer cells to promote tumor growth and survival in response to stress. Here, we outline the critical biosynthetic functions served by mitochondria within tumors (Figure 1). Although many of these functions are similarly important in normal, proliferating cells, we have attempted to highlight potential points where mitochondrial metabolism may be therapeutically targeted to slow cancer growth. This review is organized by specific metabolic pathways or processes (i.e., glucose metabolism and lipogenesis, amino acid metabolism, and nucleotide biosynthesis). Tumors or cancer cell types where enzymes in each pathway have been specifically observed to by dysregulated are described within the text and summarized in Table 1.

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2Fs40170-015-0128-2/MediaObjects/40170_2015_128_Fig1_HTML.gif

Figure 1

Biosynthetic nodes within mitochondria. Metabolic pathways within mitochondria that contribute to biosynthesis in cancer and other proliferating cells. TCA metabolism and FOCM enable cells to convert carbohydrates and amino acids to lipids, non-essential amino acids, nucleotides (including purines used for cofactor synthesis), glutathione, heme, and other cellular components. Critical biosynthetic routes are indicated by yellow arrows. Enzymatic reactions that are dependent on redox-sensitive cofactors are depicted in red.  https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2Fs40170-015-0128-2/MediaObjects/40170_2015_128_Fig1_HTML.gif

Table 1

Overview of mitochondrial biosynthetic enzymes important in cancer

TCA cycle, anaplerosis, and AcCoA metabolism

Cancers in which three or more mitochondrial enzymes have been studied and found to be differentially regulated (or mutated, as indicated) in cancers vs. control groups are included. Dysregulation of each enzyme was demonstrated in clinical tumors samples, animal models, or cell lines at the levels of genes, mRNA, protein, metabolites, and/or flux.

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Figure 2

Coordination of carbon and nitrogen metabolism across amino acids. Glutamate and aKG are key substrates in numerous transamination reactions and can also serve as precursors for glutamine, proline, and the TCA cycle. Mitochondrial enzymes catalyzing these reactions are highlighted in blue, and TCA cycle intermediates are highlighted in orange (pyruvate enters the TCA cycle as acetyl-CoA or oxaloacetate).
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2Fs40170-015-0128-2/MediaObjects/40170_2015_128_Fig2_HTML.gif

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Figure 3

Biosynthetic sources for purine and pyrimidine synthesis. Sources and fates of nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms are colored as indicated. Italicized metabolites can be sourced from the mitochondria or cytosol. The double bond formed by the action of DHODH/ubiquinone is also indicated.      https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2Fs40170-015-0128-2/MediaObjects/40170_2015_128_Fig3_HTML.gif

Mitochondria operate as both engine and factory in eukaryotes, coordinating cellular energy production and the availability of fundamental building blocks that are required for cell proliferation. Cancer cells must therefore balance their relative bioenergetic and biosynthetic needs to grow, proliferate, and survive within the physical constraints of energy and mass conservation. In contrast to quiescent cells, which predominantly use oxidative mitochondrial metabolism to produce ATP and uptake glucose at much lower rates than proliferating cells, tumor cells exhibit increased glycolytic rates to provide an elevated flux of substrate for biosynthetic pathways, including those executed within mitochondria. Given these higher rates of nutrient utilization, metabolic flux through mitochondrial pathways and the associated ROS production can often be higher in cancer cells. Not surprisingly, activation of cellular antioxidant response pathways is commonly observed in cancer or subpopulations of cells within tumors [46,78]. Cellular compartmentalization affords a degree of protection from such damaging side products of metabolism, and methods which are able to deconvolute the relative contributions of each cellular compartment (e.g. mitochondria, cytosol, peroxisome, etc.) to cancer metabolism will be crucial to more completely understand the metabolism of cancer cells in the future [74,79]. Ultimately, while mitochondrial dysregulation is widely considered to be a hallmark of cancer, numerous mitochondrial functions remain critical for tumor growth and are emerging as clinical targets.

Following this point, it comes as no surprise that mitochondrial metabolism is highly active in virtually all tumors (i.e., cancer cells, stroma, or both), and investigators have begun targeting these pathways to explore potential efficacy. Indeed, some evidence suggests that biguanides such as metformin or phenformin may limit tumor incidence and burden in humans and animals [80,81]. These effects are presumably due, at least in part, to complex I inhibition of the ETC, which significantly perturbs mitochondrial function [82,83]. However, more insights are needed into the mechanisms of these compounds in patients to determine the therapeutic potential of targeting this and other components of mitochondria. In developing new therapies that target cancer metabolism, researchers will face challenges similar to those that are relevant for many established chemotherapies since deleterious effects on normal proliferating cells that also depend on mitochondrial metabolism (and aerobic glycolysis) are likely to arise.

As we acquire a more detailed picture of how specific genetic modifications in a patient’s tumor correlate with its metabolic profile, opportunities for designing targeted or combinatorial therapies will become increasingly apparent. Cancer therapies that address tumor-specific mitochondrial dysregulation and dysfunction may be particularly effective. For example, some cancer cells harbor mutations in TCA enzymes (e.g., FH, SDH, IDH2) or regulatory proteins that control mitophagy (i.e., LKB1) [84]. Such tumors may be compromised with respect to some aspects of mitochondrial biosynthesis and dependent on alternate pathways for growth and/or survival such that synthetically lethal targets emerge. Ultimately, such strategies will require clinicians and researchers to coordinate metabolic, biochemical, and genetic information in the design of therapeutic strategies.

 

David Terrano, M.D., Ph.D. commented on your update
“Not well versed in Nat peptides so I could not say. I also hesitate with any PNAS paper because those in their academy tend to have a fast track to publication. It has been that way since at least early 2000’s wh n I began research. I don’t doubt their goal and approach (this same group leads the way in methylation-based diagnosis of CNS neoplasms, which is apparently highly accurate). But when I see “dying cells” I know what that means biochemically and look for those hallmarks. Organ specific oligonucleosomes would be a nice cell death surrogate. “

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The History and Creators of Total Parenteral Nutrition

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

The History and Creators of Total Parenteral Nutrition

I am a pathologist who became involved in the measurement of acute and chronic malnutrition in hospitalized patients through my working with a burn surgeon, Walter Pleban, in the mid-1980s.  I had already been interested in this as a clinical pathology issue because the most abundant plasma protein, albumin, is markedly decreased, but that protein has a half-life of disappearance on 21 days.  This was problematic because it was inadequate for early recognition, or for response to feeding.  It became of considerable interest that two rapid turnover proteinhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20150597s – transthyretin (TTR)(then referred to as prealbumin) and retinol binding protein (RBP) that are synthesized by the liver have short half-lifes.  The measurement of TTR was then possible by an immunodiffusion assay on agarose overnight, but was not automated.  This changed with the introduction of an immunoassay for research use, and that offered by Beckman was ideal for the automated clinical laboratory.  One could then follow the level of TTR in the recovery phase.  There was some discussion for years about the fact that TTR might be considered an inverted acute phase protein because of a recognition that the liver decreases synthesis of TTR and produces acute phase proteins in the adaptive inflammatory response.  This is not insignificant, but it is also not quite relevant for reasons that have been addressed by Yves Ingenbleek and collaborators.  TTR is a key determinant of protein sufficiency and of sulfur homeostasis in health and disease.  I shall not say more, as the development of total parenteral (TPN), and also enteral (TEN) nutrition are of specific interest here.  However, the evaluation of patients’ nutritional status has widely been carried out by subjective global assessment, which is insufficient in a large population at risk.

 

History of parenteral nutrition.

The concept of feeding patients entirely parenterally by injecting nutrient substances or fluids intravenously was advocated and attempted long before the successful practical development of total parenteral nutrition (TPN) four decades ago. Realization of this 400 year old seemingly fanciful dream initially required centuries of fundamental investigation coupled with basic technological advances and judicious clinical applications. Most clinicians in the 1950’s were aware of the negative impact of starvation on morbidity, mortality, and outcomes, but only few understood the necessity for providing adequate nutritional support to malnourished patients if optimal clinical results were to be achieved. The prevailing dogma in the 1960’s was that, “Feeding entirely by vein is impossible; even if it were possible, it would be impractical; and even if it were practical, it would be unaffordable.” Major challenges to the development of TPN included: (1) formulate complete parenteral nutrient solutions (did not exist), (2) concentrate substrate components to 5-6 times isotonicity without precipitation (not easily done), (3) demonstrate utility and safety of long-term central venous catheterization (not looked upon with favor by the medical hierarchy), (4) demonstrate efficacy and safety of long-term infusion of hypertonic nutrient solutions (contrary to clinical practices at the time), (5) maintain asepsis and antisepsis throughout solution preparation and delivery (required a major culture change), and (6) anticipate, avoid, and correct metabolic imbalances or derangements (a monumental challenge and undertaking). This presentation recounts approaches to, and solution of, some of the daunting problems as really occurred in a comprehensive, concise and candid history of parenteral nutrition.

 

Historical highlights of the development of total parenteral nutrition.
The events and discoveries thought to be the most significant prerequisites to the development of total parenteral nutrition (TPN) dating back to the early 17th century are chronicled. A more detailed description and discussion of the subsequent early modern highlights of the basic and clinical research beginning in the mid-20th century and the advances culminating in the first demonstration of the feasibility and practicality of TPN, and its successful, safe and efficacious applications clinically, are presented. Some of the reasoning, insights, and philosophy of a pioneer clinician-scientist in the field are shared with readers.

 

The History, Principles, and Practice of Parenteral Nutrition in Preterm Neonates

Stanley J. Dudrick , Alpin D. Malkan
Chapter in:  
Nutrition for the Preterm Neonate    27 June 2013   pp 193-213

The history of the successful development of Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), first in beagle puppies in the basic science laboratories, and its subsequent clinical translations initially to adults, and shortly thereafter, to a newborn infant, is recounted by the original developer of the techniques, data, and results that have led to its widespread application and acceptance throughout the world. The principles, practices, standards, techniques, observations, technology, and several of the countless details which were so essential in guiding this dream to reality, are woven throughout the narrative. The advances and milestones are traced along this passionate, relentless journey to the present day, when preterm infants are actually expected to live and thrive. The precision and conscientious attention which are essential to the judicious, safe, efficacious use of TPN in preterm neonates throughout all aspects of solution formulation and delivery, together with appropriate monitoring and assessment of outcomes, are described and discussed briefly. The multiple risks and complications associated with this complex life-saving technique are extensively tabulated, with the intention to teach, in order to avoid, prevent, or overcome them. Moreover, attention has been directed toward pointing out many of the persisting shortcomings of the technique which remain to be prevented, overcome, or corrected by future research efforts and experiences. Finally, the costs, philosophy, humanity, and future advancements necessary to apply TPN to the care of preterm infants in developing countries are stated with optimism and hope.

 

Brief History of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition in the Hospital in the USA
Bruce R. Bistrian
Clinical Nutrition, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

Elia M, Bistrian B (eds): The Economic, Medical/Scientifi c and Regulatory Aspects of Clinical Nutrition Practice: What Impacts What?
Nestlé Nutr Inst Workshop Ser Clin Perform Program, vol. 12, pp 127–136, Nestec Ltd., Vevey/S. Karger AG, Basel, © 2009.

The meteoric rise in parenteral and enteral nutrition was largely a consequence of the development of total parenteral nutrition and chemically defined diets in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the recognition of the extensive prevalence of protein calorie malnutrition associated with disease in this same period. The establishment of Nutrition Support Services (NSS) using the novel, multidisciplinary model of physician, clinical nurse specialist, pharmacist, and dietitian, which, at its peak in the 1990s, approached 550 well-established services in about 10% of the US acute care hospitals, also fostered growth. The American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, a multidisciplinary society reflecting the interaction of these specialties, was established in 1976 and grew from less than 1,000 members to nearly 8,000 by 1990. Several developments in the 1990s initially slowed and then stopped this growth. A system of payments, called diagnosis-related groups, put extreme cost constraints on hospital finances which often limited financial support for NSS teams, particularly the physician and nurse specialist members. Furthermore, as the concern for the nutritional status of patients spread to other specialties, critical care physicians, trauma surgeons, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, and nephrologists often took responsibility for nutrition support in their area of expertise with a dwindling of the model of an internist or general surgeon with special skills in nutrition support playing the key MD role across the specialties. Nutrition support of the hospitalized patient has dramatically improved in the US over the past 35 years, but the loss of major benefits possible and unacceptable risks of invasive nutritional support if not delivered when appropriate, delivered without monitoring by nutrition experts, or employed where inappropriate or ineffective will require continued attention by medical authorities, hospitals, funding agencies, and industry in the future.

The rapid ascension of parenteral and enteral nutrition into an important component of clinical care in the hospital setting can be traced to three developments that occurred over an about 5-year period in the late 1960s and early 1970s. First and foremost was the first successful use of total parenteral nutrition (TPN), initially in beagle dogs to show the feasibility, and then its successful extension to 30 patients with chronic, complicated gastrointestinal disease by Dudrick et al. [1] at the University of Pennsylvania. At about the same time chemically defined or elemental diets were developed in normal volunteers to be employed in the US Mercury Space Program [2] where storage space and a low residue made these diets very desirable. These novel formulas were subsequently used in clinical conditions in which digestion and/or absorption was impaired and were provided usually through nasoenteric feeding tubes [3]. Both parenteral and enteral nutrition were initially studied in surgical patients in whom protein calorie malnutrition through gut malfunction had long been an often insurmountable problem. The third and final development was the identification of the extraordinary prevalence of malnutrition in hospitalized patients occurring in up to half of those on both surgical [4] and medical [5] services described in 1974 and 1976 respectively, when defined by simple anthropometric tools of weight, height, and upper arm anthropometry and serum albumin levels.

At this point one can view the glass as half full or half empty. From the optimistic or glass half full standpoint the period from 1975 to 1985 after the above advances could be described as a logarithmic phase of growth in clinical nutrition. Nutrition Support Services (NSS) using the novel, multidisciplinary model of physician, nurse specialist, pharmacist, and dietitian initially began in the early 1970s [6, 7] and at their high point probably approached 550 well-established services [8] in about 10% of America’s acute care hospitals by 1990. A number of studies during this early period demonstrated the ability of such groups to dramatically reduce the risk of catheter-related sepsis and to limit the development of electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities with TPN and to reduce complications and increase the adequacy of enteral nutrition [9]. Financial benefits were less certain in part due to difficulties to fully estimate costs and benefits [9], but at the very least were cost neutral in most circumstances [10].

The American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition which reflected this unique multidisciplinary membership of the NSS was established and had its first meeting in Chicago in 1976. Membership, initially less than 1,000 grew to nearly 8,000 by 1990 and was composed of approximately 20% physicians, 15% nurses, 15% pharmacists, and 50% dietitians in 1990. The annual ASPEN Clinical Congress, which continues to date, became an important venue to educate and train and provide a forum for the presentation of new research findings.

Finally from a personal perspective when I first became involved with nutrition support during my PhD training in Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism at MIT from 1972 to 1975, a period in which we were conducting the early surveys of nutritional status [4, 5], there was a general lack of appreciation for the nutritional status of patients. Protein calorie malnutrition was so widespread and undertreated that we developed a system of measurement of delayed cutaneous hypersensitivity to document cutaneous anergy [11] in order to convince clinicians that their patients required invasive nutritional support to reverse anergy. By 1990 there was a general appreciation that hospital protein calorie malnutrition was common, that invasive feeding could improve outcome, and that lack of feeding for periods of longer than 7–10 days in critically ill patients was an unacceptable practice. During this period from 1975 to 1990 there was a steady increase in the number of converts to better nutritional practices, particularly in surgical patients and in the critically ill in intensive care units, both medical and surgical. Testing for cutaneous anergy was abandoned at our medical center in the mid 1980s [12], principally because prolonged inadequate feeding became so uncommon, and there was little difficulty in convincing the primary physician of the need for invasive feeding when appropriate.

What happened subsequent to 1990? Now we can discuss the glass that is half empty, and this largely relates to medical funding. In the early 1980s the Medicare system in the US began a system of hospital payments based on diagnosis-related groups, where a fixed amount of money was paid according to diagnosis rather than actual costs. Medicare is the government system of reimbursement for patients 65 years or older, the disabled, or those receiving dialysis therapy. But the other source of hospital payments from medical care for the indigent through the government program Medicaid is the joint responsibility of the individual state and the federal government, and private insurance links their payments to government policy. The severe cost-containment pressures brought on by these changes in medical insurance have adversely affected nutrition support team staffing which began to have its greatest impact in the 1990s and was particularly harsh on hyperalimentation nurses and physicians involved in nutrition support. Although there are medical and financial costs associated with the termination of a nutrition support nurse [13], this cost must often be forcefully documented with hospital authorities, and generally can be in terms of unacceptable rates of catheter infection without their presence. With physicians there is no acknowledged medical specialty for clinical nutrition, although there was a split vote of 2–1 against by the American Board of Medical Specialties in the 1990s which would have accomplished this had it passed. Therefore, if the local hospital administrator or chairmen of medicine or surgery cannot be convinced of the value of providing partial financial support to nutrition support physicians for their clinical participation, then either it is done as a free service as an avocation by these individuals or done as a component of their underlying specialty. Thus most intensivists will provide parenteral and enteral nutrition as part of their care, as will many surgical specialists, particularly trauma surgeons, burn surgeons, and general surgeons. Oversight for home parenteral and enteral nutrition is often provided by gastroenterologists. However it is likely in many instances that nutritional care by these specialists is at an acceptable if perhaps not ideal level. For medical patients parenteral and enteral nutritional support is now often delivered under the care of dietitians which is reasonably good vis-à-vis enteral nutrition, but with parenteral nutrition may sometimes be outside their level of clinical competence, particularly for the management of fluid and electrolyte disorders and insulin management in diabetic patients. Dietitians have been less severely impacted by cost considerations, because there is a Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations (JCAHO) requirement that hospitals nutritionally monitor their patients. Pharmacists are also very important in the provision of parenteral nutrition, particularly by determining compatibilities of parenteral nutrition admixtures, checking the stability of orders from day-to-day, and by making certain of the completeness of parenteral regimens. Their continued availability to provide this level of expertise is also mandated by JCAHO as well as by their own professional standards.

There has also been a change in the membership of ASPEN that reflects this trend. After an initial fall of total members through the 1990s, the number has more recently stabilized, but there has been a dramatic decrease in nurses from nearly 1,000 to about 300 in 1999 and less than 200 at present (2006) with a concomitant increase in dietitians to about 60% of a total of 5,000 members, which has been relatively stable for the past 7 years, and a slowly diminishing number of physicians from 1,000 (20%) in 1999 to 735 (15%) in 2006. However both physician and pharmacist numbers have stabilized from 2001 to 2006, at approximately 750 and 620 members. Fellowship opportunities for physicians have also diminished, and there is some concern about what the future holds for physicians principally interested in parenteral and enteral nutrition. The second major American society for clinical nutrition after ASPEN was an independent group of academic physicians and PhD nutritionists interested in this field, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition. Last year by vote of its members it chose to disband and become a component of the American Society of Nutrition. Hopefully this group of individuals will maintain their interest in this field and continue to promote the improvement of parenteral and enteral nutrition for the hospitalized patient. However the likelihood of getting specialty recognition from the American Board of Medical Specialties is dim under the present conditions.

How does this bode for the future? Presumably there will always be some physicians trained in clinical nutrition, but some programs, like the exemplary program at MIT which trained many of the academic clinical nutritionists, have been discontinued and not been replaced. Certainly there is ample evidence for the need for such individuals. For instance one of the most important recent developments in clinical medicine has been the demonstration that tight blood glucose control in the critically ill can dramatically improve the morbidity and mortality of patients [18]. However this was primarily a study in cardiac surgical patients, and a similar study in medical patients by the same group demonstrated that tight blood glucose control improved morbidity but did not affect mortality [19]. In fact in those medical patients who received therapy for less than 3 days, mortality was actually increased. These superb innovative studies were primarily conducted by an endocrinologist who is a specialist in critical care. However an important variable in these two landmark studies, not previously commented on, is that in the surgical study the patients also received hypertonic dextrose initially for the first 24 h and TPN subsequently [18]. The medical patients in the second study received the initial hypertonic dextrose followed by inadequate nasogastric tube feeding for the first 3 days providing substantially less calories and grossly inadequate protein [19]. It may well be that it is the combination with tight glucose control in the setting of adequate feeding that is essential to achieve all the benefits rather than the control of hyperglycemia alone. Similarly a recent study in cardiac surgical patients receiving tight glucose control during their surgery and tight regulation of both treatment and control postoperatively showed no benefit and, in fact, a suggestion of harm in the treatment group [20]. Perhaps lowering blood glucose in cardiac patients not receiving hypertonic dextrose before revascularization may deprive the heart of an essential fuel. Having some physicians thoroughly trained in clinical nutrition to discern these possibilities may be important in the future to design and interpret the results of clinical trials.

 

For Patients Who Can’t Eat, Dr. Stanley Dudrick’s Intravenous Feeding System Is a Lifeline

Nearly 100 patients at the University of Texas Medical Center are undergoing similar nutritional therapy. Each owes his survival to Dr. Dudrick, who in 1972, at the precocious age of 37, became head of the center’s department of surgery.

Dudrick was turned from a fledgling cardiac surgeon into a pioneer nutritionist one day when he was an intern in Philadelphia. “We had three patients who had gone through successful surgery—but they all died,” he recalls. “I was terribly discouraged. Then the chairman of the surgery department said that, if I analyzed it, I’d see they really died of starvation. They couldn’t eat, and they didn’t have enough reserve tissues to draw on. I was too dumb to make that observation myself.”

Dudrick immersed himself in the study of how to provide food for those who can’t eat. From 10 to 40 percent of hospital deaths are still caused, he believes, by malnutrition. Patients with gastrointestinal cancer are especially vulnerable, as well as those with kidney or liver failure or burn trauma.

Sir Christopher Wren experimented with intravenous feeding of dogs as early as the 17th century. In its modern traditional form (most familiar in the glucose drip bottle), it cannot support life for long, however. Dudrick solved the problem by developing a complete nutritive compound. But he faced another obstacle: “We couldn’t put it in through the arm because the mixture was too thick and produced problems in the small veins. We couldn’t thin it down with water either, because that produced edema, or excess fluid in the connective tissue.

“Then,” Dudrick says, “we hit on the idea of putting it into larger veins, where the blood flow is so great that the nutritional substances would be diluted and rushed throughout the body.” Often the compound is pumped into the superior vena cava, through a catheter threaded through a smaller vein near the collarbone.

Dudrick’s nutrient, specially mixed for each patient, is composed of some 40 substances, including amino acids, glucose, vitamins and minerals. In some cases druggists or patients themselves can prepare the mixture.

Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) is Dudrick’s term for his technique. (Parenteral refers to bypassing the intestines.) In 1964 he astounded a medical convention in Germany with the news that he had raised six beagle puppies entirely on TPN for 287 days. In 1966 he first tried it on six humans with apparently terminal illness; all recovered and four are still alive. Since then Dudrick has used TPN on about 6,000 patients and has received two American Medical Association awards.

Eldest of four children of a Nanticoke, Pa. coal miner turned insurance agent, Dudrick decided on a medical career after watching the family doctor pull his mother through a near-fatal illness. Both his sisters are nurses. Still a crusader, he worries that, while half the nation’s doctors are aware of TPN, only five percent are using it. “It takes time,” he says, “for doctors to accept so much responsibility for dealing with such complex advances in human chemistry, metabolism and nutrition.”

Success will depend on campaigning for the technique, while simplifying it. “Someday we’ll have TPN down so that it will commonly be done in a general practitioner’s office,” Dudrick predicts. “That’s what I’m hoping for. I want to leave something better behind when I go, rather than just practice medicine the way it has always been done.”

Born in Rangoon, Burma on August 26, 1935, Khursheed N. Jeejeebhoy fled seven years later with his family to India to escape the Japanese invaders. He attended medical school in Vellore, India; trained in London, England; married and had three children; and in 1967, accepted a position at the Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto.From the beginning of his career, he was always on the forefront of research: he was one of the first to discover lactose intolerance. In 1970, with a surgical colleague, he was experimenting with TPN on post-surgical patients when Judy Ellis Taylor came into his care.

 

Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy received his medical degree from the Christian Medical College Hospital in Vellore, India in 1959 and completed residency in India and the UK. He obtained his PhD from London University in 1963. He became division director of gastroenterology at the University of Toronto and the Toronto General Hospital. Currently, he is directs nutrition support and is a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital. He is also a professor of medicine, professor in the department of nutritional sciences and professor in the department of physiology, all at the University of Toronto. He has published over 500 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts and book chapters. He has a CIHR funded research program. He is on the editorial boards of nutritional journals and contributes to the Medical Post. He has received numerous awards throughout his career from Canada, USA and UK. He has been elected senior member of the Canadian Medical Association.

 

This determined young woman intended to live and expected him to save her. He took her up on her challenge and developed first a viable, long-term form of TPN, then a version Judy could use at home.With Judy such a success, Dr. Jeejeebhoy (Jeej to his patients and colleagues) bent his efforts to saving other lives with TPN and to learning more about the nutrients that the human body needs and in what dosages, both orally and intravenously, so that he could better nourish his patients and reduce their suffering. He has written over 350 papers and 100 books and chapters; was made professor of medicine, physiology, and nutrition at the University of Toronto; has lectured in virtually every country; and has taught many graduate students from Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia, as well as the first doctor allowed to leave China to study temporarily after China started opening up to the west.

His patients are intensely loyal to him, for his understanding, listening skills, expertise. In 1990, he moved to St. Michael’s Hospital and built up a TPN program there. He entered the commercial arena when he conducted research in and developed a radical new, nutritional way to improve the function of patients with congestive heart failure. MyLife Requirements “contains a patented combination of three nutrients, which interact synergistically and are needed by the heart to maintain optimal health and to function efficiently.  These nutrients are Coenzyme Q10, and the amino acids Taurine and Carnitine.” Due to the interesting regulation of L-carnitine by Health Canada, this supplement is available only in the US, not here in Canada.

At the end of 2007, he retired, sort of, a few years after becoming Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto due to mandatory retirement at age 65. He closed his university lab at the end of 2007 when his last grant ran out. That ended a 40-year run of successful research grant applications and groundbreaking research. He embarked on a new role at St. Mike’s at the beginning of 2008, teaching at a Home TPN clinic; he continues to see patients part-time at a private clinic; and he conducts hospital rounds every week. His patients and colleagues would not allow complete retirement! Besides, Jeej is far too curious and interested in exploring new ideas to completely retire either!

 

 

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Investigating Functional Compensation by Human Paralogous Proteins

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

 

 

Using Disease-Associated Coding Sequence Variation to Investigate Functional Compensation by Human Paralogous Proteins

Evolutionary Bioinformatics 2015:11 245-251    http://dx.doi.org:/10.4137/EBO.S30594

 

In this article, we examined the functional compensation among paralogs as a general phenomenon through an analysis of disease-associated genetic variation in humans.23–26 In contrast to expectations under the functional compensation hypothesis, we found that multigene families have a greater tendency to harbor dSNVs than singleton proteins. We proposed that differences in functional constraints (evolutionary constraint hypothesis) explain the observed pattern to a large degree.

 

Gene duplication enables the functional diversification in species. It is thought that duplicated genes may be able to compensate if the function of one of the gene copies is disrupted. This possibility is extensively debated with some studies reporting proteome-wide compensation, whereas others suggest functional compensation among only recent gene duplicates or no compensation at all. We report results from a systematic molecular evolutionary analysis to test the predictions of the functional compensation hypothesis. We contrasted the density of Mendelian disease-associated single nucleotide variants (dSNVs) in proteins with no discernable paralogs (singletons) with the dSNV density in proteins found in multigene families. Under the functional compensation hypothesis, we expected to find greater numbers of dSNVs in singletons due to the lack of any compensating partners. Our analyses produced an opposite pattern; paralogs have over 35% higher dSNV density than singletons. We found that these patterns are concordant with similar differences in the rates of amino acid evolution (ie, functional constraints), as the proteins with paralogs have evolved 33% slower than singletons. Our evolutionary constraint explanation is robust to differences in family sizes, ages (young vs. old duplicates), and degrees of amino acid sequence similarities among paralogs. Therefore, disease-associated human variation does not exhibit significant signals of functional compensation among paralogous proteins, but rather an evolutionary constraint hypothesis provides a better explanation for the observed patterns of disease-associated and neutral polymorphisms in the human genome.

 

 

Gene duplication is an important mechanism for the origin of novelty in evolution.1–3 When a gene is duplicated, one of the duplicate copies usually decays within a few million years due to an accumulation of deleterious mutations.4 However, duplicates may be retained if they become functionally important to the organism.5–7 It has been suggested that duplicate genes may be able to carry out the original gene function, which means that paralogs may compensate for each other.8,9 Gene knockout/knockdown experiments have been conducted in multiple species to examine the degree of functional redundancy in gene families. The results suggest that the loss of function in genes with paralogs is associated with higher organismal survival than the loss of function in genes without any known paralogs (singletons), supporting the functional compensation hypothesis.10–16 However, Liao and Zhang17 reported that duplicates rarely compensate for each other in mice, which has been debated.18–22 Overall, experimental data have not yet provided definitive evidence about whether paralogous genes do compensate for each other in most instances.

The predictions of functional compensation can be tested computationally by analyzing the disease-associated genetic variation in humans. These variants are currently experiencing negative selection in the human populations, which means that they constitute data of functional impact in nature. If functional compensation among gene family members is substantial, it is expected that fewer significant statistical associations between variants and disease phenotypes will be detected for proteins in multigene families than for singletons. Using this idea, Dickerson and Robertson23 tested the predictions of functional compensation and found no difference between the proportion of singletons and para logs implicated in diseases (2% difference), supporting the conclusions of Liao and Zhang.17 However, they and others have suggested that recently diverged paralogs are less likely to be disease-associated than singletons and proteins with distantly related paralogs.23–26 These results suggest functional redundancy among young gene duplicates.

However, the abovementioned computational studies have not accounted for many potentially confounding factors. First, disease-associated single nucleotide variants (dSNVs) are found preferentially at slowly evolving amino acid positions27; thus, we expect to observe a higher frequency of dSNVs in more conserved proteins. This could distort comparisons between singletons and multigene family proteins if the distributions of amino acid evolutionary rates are not the same for these two classes. Second, the numbers of dSNVs found in different proteins are not expected to be the same because the numbers of amino acids in proteins vary by an order of magnitude. This means that commonly used metrics, such as the relative fractions of disease and nondisease proteins in different protein classes, are too coarse. Metrics that take into account the number of amino acids in proteins (sequence length) are necessary for more robust hypothesis testing.

In the following section, we tested the hypothesis of functional compensation by considering the abovementioned factors to better understand the genome-wide pattern of functional evolution in gene families, which is vital for understanding genome evolution and predicting disruptive effects of the mutations of proteins that have paralogs.

We obtained a set of 15,485 human proteins and their homologs from 46 diverse species from the UCSC genome browser (see Material and Methods). For each protein, we also obtained a list of paralogs from the HOVERGEN database.28 Our set of proteins is representative of the whole human gene set because about half (52%) of these proteins have at least one paralog, a fraction that is similar to the overall fraction of proteins with paralogs in the human genome (49% in HOVERGEN database28). For each human protein, we computed the average rate of amino acid substitution (number of substitutions per site per billion years) using the interspecific amino acid sequence alignments (see Material and Methods). Figure 1 shows the distributions of evolutionary rates in singleton and multigene family proteins. Overall, singletons are less conserved than multigene family proteins, with a ∼20% mean and ∼30% median difference (P < 0.01 by two-sample Kolmogorov–Smirnov test; Fig. 1A). Similar patterns are observed when considering paralogs belonging to small (2–5) and large (.5) multigene families (P < 0.01; Fig. 1B).

 

Figure 1. Distributions of evolutionary rates of singleton (broken line) and multigene family proteins (solid or dotted line). (A) Evolutionary rates are in the units of the number of amino acid substitutions per amino acid site per billion years. the mean and median of these distributions are 1.05 and 0.89, respectively, for singletons, and 0.80 and 0.61, respectively, for proteins in multigene families. these distributions are significantly different (two-sample Kolmogorov– smirnov test; P < 0.01). (b) multigene family proteins were separated into those with two to five paralogs (small family; solid line) and greater than five paralogs (large family; dotted line). The mean and median of these distributions are 0.75 and 0.60, respectively, for the proteins from the small multigene families (two to five paralogs) and 0.87 and 0.63, respectively, for the proteins from the large multigene families (greater than five paralogs). These distributions are significantly different from the distribution for singletons (P < 0.01).

 

dsNVs in singletons and multigene families. We analyzed all available SNVs associated with Mendelian diseases in singleton and multigene family proteins. There were a total of 47,382 dSNVs in 2,589 proteins. In these data, the proportion of proteins with at least one dSNV was slightly lower (2.2%) for singletons than that of proteins with paralogs, which is consistent with the recent reports.23,29 However, the number of dSNVs in proteins varied extensively and was found to be positively correlated with the protein length (P < 0.05 for multigene family and singletons; Fig. 2). This is reasonable because longer proteins should have a greater chance of accumulating random mutations and are, therefore, more likely to be classified as disease genes. Thus, we normalized the number of dSNVs by protein length to avoid any bias due to length differences in subsequent analyses.

 

Figure 2. Distributions of the number of dsnvs. (A) a frequency diagram showing the number of proteins with at least one dsnv. (b) the average number of dsnvs per protein for proteins at different length thresholds at 100 amino acids intervals. the average number of dsnvs per protein is positively correlated with the average protein length for both multigene family (correlation = 0.005; P < 0.01) and singleton proteins (correlation = 0.002; P = 0.04).

 

We compared the number of dSNVs per 100 amino acid positions (dSNV density) between multigene family and singleton proteins. Multigene family proteins have 1.6 times higher density of dSNVs than detected in singleton proteins (0.66 and 0.42, respectively). We can statistically reject the null hypothesis of equal dSNV densities in singletons and multigene family proteins (P < 0.01). However, the direction of effect is opposite to the predictions of functional compensation from paralogous genes in multigene families, as the multigene family proteins contained significantly more dSNVs than singletons. We tested the influence of outliers on this result by excluding all proteins with .0.5 dSNVs per amino acid. This reduced the number of proteins slightly (131 proteins were excluded), but the ratio of multigene family and singleton protein dSNV densities remained unchanged (1.6; P < 0.01). We, nevertheless, excluded all proteins in which the number of dSNVs per position was .0.5 in all subsequent analyses to remove the influence of proteins with unusually high dSNV density when comparing the patterns between different classes of proteins. We also tested if the observed patterns reflect the mutations of specific amino acids (eg, arginine) that comprise a major fraction of the dataset of dSNVs (16%). Arginine codons contain a CpG dinucleotide in the first two positions and are, thus, more prone to transitional mutations, leading to amino acid variation.30 We computed the dSNV densities using only the arginine positions in proteins and found the dSNV density in multigene family proteins to be 1.5 times greater than observed in singletons (0.09 and 0.06, respectively; P < 0.01). A similar pattern was observed for glycine (replacement of glycine residues occurs for 12% of dSNVs in this dataset). The dSNV density in multigene family proteins was twice than observed in singletons (0.08 and 0.04, respectively; P < 0.01).

Finally, we looked for the signatures of functional compensation using dSNVs that are expected to be the most severe, with the rationale that functional compensation may be easier to detect, as ameliorating severe phenotypic effects will have greater relative effect on individual fitness. We designated a dSNV to be severe if the predicted functional impact score for the variant was in the top 5% of all dSNVs (see Material and Methods). For these data, the multigene family proteins have a dSNV density 2.3 times higher than that observed for singletons (0.034 and 0.015, respectively; P < 0.01), which does not support the functional compensation hypothesis. Therefore, the patterns of greater abundance of dSNVs in multigene families are robust to the predicted effect sizes of dSNVs analyzed and the amino acid composition bias of the variation dataset.

Relationship of evolutionary conservation and dsNVs.

We examined if protein conservation difference between singletons and multigene family proteins can explain the above mentioned pattern because it is now well established that highly conserved proteins are significantly more likely to contain dSNVs.27,31 Because the protein evolutionary rate distributions are neither normal nor symmetrical (Fig. 1), we compared medians (0.61 and 0.89, respectively) and found a ratio of 0.69 between the multigene family and singleton proteins. The inverse of this ratio (1.5) is only slightly different from the ratio of dSNV densities (1.6). This similarity suggests that the higher rate of dSNVs in multigene family proteins is mostly explained by the degree of functional constraint on proteins in multigene families versus singleton proteins. Based on this observation, we propose the evolutionary constraints hypothesis, which posits that the differences in dSNV densities among different classes of proteins (eg, singleton vs. multigene) are primarily a result of the differences in the degree of natural selection acting upon them. If true, this would be consistent with the neutral theory of molecular evolution.32 Evolutionary constraint hypothesis does not preclude the existence of functional compensation (among other factors) in some proteins or positions, but it does claim that differences in the intensity of purifying selection will be the primary cause of observed differences in the preponderance of SNVs in different groups of proteins.

We tested the prediction of the evolutionary constraint hypothesis in an analysis of 12,952 common neutral SNVs (nSNVs) obtained from the 1000 Genomes Project.33 These common nSNVs are complementary in nature to dSNVs, as common nSNVs persist in the human population and have risen to moderate frequencies (.5%) because their impact on fitness is effectively neutral (opposite of dSNVs that cause disease). Therefore, if functional constraints and, thus, the conservation level of human protein sequence explain the observed differences in dSNV density, we should also observe fewer nSNVs in multigene family proteins, as these proteins evolve more slowly and are expected to be subject to more severe purifying selection.34 Indeed, the nSNV density (number of nSNVs per 100 amino acids) in multigene family proteins was lower than that of singletons (ratio = 0.82; 0.13 and 0.16, respectively; P < 0.01). This ratio (0.82) is again similar to the ratio of the evolutionary rates (0.69) for these two classes of proteins. These results suggest that the occurrence of dSNVs and nSNVs in proteins is largely concordant with the degree of functional constraint on proteins, which is captured in their evolutionary rates.

Disease sNV prevalence in proteins with young and old paralogs.

Next, we tested the hypothesis that functional compensation is more common in proteins with younger paralogs.23,24 If functional compensation generally occurs only for a brief period after the gene duplication event, then the most recently diverged paralogs will provide the most powerful signal to detect functional compensation. We first identified the closest paralog for each protein within a given gene family by selecting the paralog with the smallest nucleotide divergence in their codons (third positions only). To estimate the relative antiquity of the duplicate event, we used the protein-specific human–mouse third positions in codons to normalize each closest paralog divergence across gene families (see Materials and Methods). This normalized value yields an approximate gene duplication time when it is scaled using the human–mouse divergence time (92.3 million years ago35). This approximation is reasonable, as third positions in codons evolve relatively neutrally and because we use divergence times primarily for identifying and sorting young paralogs for hypothesis testing.

Density of dSNV for duplicates that have diverged from their paralogs in the last 200 million years shows a tendency to increase with estimated duplicate age (Fig. 3A). The same pattern is observed for the positions of arginine and glycine and those with predicted severe functional impacts (Fig. 3B–D). Also, the dSNV densities for the youngest duplicates are lower than those for singletons (triangle in Fig. 3). We found that the evolutionary rate of proteins is negatively correlated with time since duplication, and the youngest duplicates have higher evolutionary rates than singletons (Fig. 4A). These patterns do not support the functional compensation hypothesis23 and are consistent with our evolutionary constraint hypothesis. These trends are confirmed in the analysis of nSNV densities that showed expected complementary patterns (Fig. 4B).

 

Figure 3. the dsnv density in duplicates over time. Each point shows the dsnv density of all proteins with duplication age less than or equal to a threshold time (x-axis; 10 million year intervals). the dsnv density of singletons is shown with a triangle. Panels show patterns obtained for all dsnvs (A), arginine dsnvs (b), and glycine dsnvs (C). Panel D shows patterns for dsnvs with severe impact predicted by EvoD.46

 

Figure 4. the average evolutionary rates (A) and nsnv densities (b) of all proteins with duplication age less than or equal to a threshold time (x-axis; 10 million year intervals). the decreasing trend for evolutionary rate (A) is opposite to that observed for dsnvs, but it is similar to that observed for nsnvs (b). in each panel, triangle shows the value from singletons.

 

Disease sNV prevalence in proteins with very similar paralogs.

We also tested the functional compensation hypothesis in proteins that show high amino acid sequence similarities with their paralogs, as studied by Hsiao and Vitkup.24 We found that paralogs with the highest amino acid sequence similarities (.95%) actually have higher dSNV densities than other paralogs (0.98 vs. 0.57; P < 0.01). This is inconsistent with the functional compensation hypothesis but agrees with our evolutionary constraint hypothesis because the evolutionary rates were lower in paralogs with .95% similarity (0.59 and 0.78 substitutions/site/billion years; P < 0.01). Therefore, differences in the degree of functional constraint (measured using evolutionary rates) account for the observed patterns of dSNV densities.

Next, we compared nSNV densities in paralogs with .95% sequence similarity to those with #95% similarity. For this comparison, we needed to be cognizant of the fact that variant calls are difficult when the paralogs have very similar DNA sequences.36–39 This is the case for paralogs with .95% amino acid sequence similarity because most of these proteins also showed small divergences at the third positions in codons between paralogs (#0.2 substitutions per site). To accommodate the variant call errors, we used proteins with #0.2 distance (third positions) for comparison between paralogs for two groups of proteins (225 and 69 proteins). The nSNV density was 0.30 and 0.52 for proteins that have paralogs with .95% and #95% sequence similarity, respectively (P < 0.01). The former proteins are more conserved (rate = 0.89) than the latter (rate = 1.97; P < 0.01), and so the result is consistent with the evolutionary constraint hypothesis.

 

In this article, we examined the functional compensation among paralogs as a general phenomenon through an analysis of disease-associated genetic variation in humans.23–26 In contrast to expectations under the functional compensation hypothesis, we found that multigene families have a greater tendency to harbor dSNVs than singleton proteins. We proposed that differences in functional constraints (evolutionary constraint hypothesis) explain the observed pattern to a large degree. We confirmed that singleton proteins show lower functional constraint than proteins with identifiable duplicates in the genome, which explains the increased detection of disease-associated variation observed in multigene families.

Some recent theoretical and empirical studies suggest that functional compensation can lead to enhanced purifying selection and, therefore, may actually be associated with slower evolutionary rates.14,40 Other studies indicate that the youngest duplicates are evolving under relaxed selection pressures, which would cause an increase in evolutionary rates for a few million years.4 Such short-term and localized rate changes (faster or slower) will not have significant impact on the estimates of very long-term evolutionary rates that we have used to quantify the functional constraint. We have calculated the evolutionary rates using sequence differences in proteins that have accumulated changes for hundreds of millions of years across major groups of vertebrates. There is no evidence that pervasive functional compensation exists across the phylogenetic breadth and genomic scale reflected in our analyses. We expect our major conclusions to hold true in general, while acknowledging that functional compensation may occur in some multigene families and some amino acid positions. In summary, we suggest that there is a need to fully consider differences in the evolutionary conservation of proteins when studying the patterns of sequence variation and variant–phenotype associations.

 

 

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The biochemistry of S amino acids

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Curator

LPBI

Amino Acid and Sulfur Metabolism

Dr. Rainer Höfgen

http://www.mpimp-golm.mpg.de/5892/2hoefgen

 Sulfur is together with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium a plant macronutrient and a crucial element affecting plant growth, plant performance and yield. The group of Dr. Rainer Hoefgen focuses on characterising the regulation of cysteine and methionine as a result of sulfate uptake and assimilation in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

Cysteine and methionine are two essential amino acids which contain sulfur. We are also looking at interconnections between sulfur metabolism and other plant nutrients. Further, we are investigating means of improving the nutritional quality of crops, with a current focus on rice (Oryza sativa) with respect to a balanced amino acid composition.

In our studies of plant sulfur metabolism, we use two mutually supporting approaches as the basis of our research portfolio. The first is a targeted, pathway-oriented approach aimed at understanding pathway architecture and coordination, and the regulation of the sulfur-containing metabolites as such. The second is a non-biased approach in which functional genomics is used to work out how sulfur metabolism is embedded and controlled within the whole plant system.

sulfur uptake and assimilation

sulfur uptake and assimilation

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Sulfur is a required macronutrient, sulfur uptake and assimilation are crucial determinants in how quickly plants grow and cope with various stresses, and therefore, in how well crops yield.

Inorganic sulfate is taken up through plant roots and, via cysteine biosynthesis, incorporated as organic sulfur. Our investigations focus on fundamental questions about cysteine (cys) and methionine (met) biosynthesis and on the possibility of engineering crop plants enriched in these sulfur-containing amino acids. Methionine is essential for non-ruminant mammals (including man) and uptake of cysteine reduces the methionine requirement. We have used transgenic strategies to generate many plant lines affected in cysteine and methionine biosynthesis, and subjected them to detailed molecular and biochemical analyses. Recently, we embarked on a course to study sulfur metabolism in a holistic way, rather than focusing on single pathways as such. By applying functional genomic tools like transcript, metabolite, and protein profiling in our analysis of transgenic potato (Solanum tuberosum) and of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, we are heading for a better understanding of the sulfur metabolism network in plants.

To learn about the control mechanisms involved in sulfur-containing amino acid biosynthesis, we are isolating and studying the involved genes and their promoters. The model plant systems of our investigations are potato and Arabidopsis, although a limited amount of work is also dedicated to rice (Oryza sativa), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), and tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum). Various transgenic plants exhibiting reduced or increased expression of relevant genes in the pathway have been produced and analysed. Fundamental knowledge of pathway regulation has been obtained as well as an improvement of the nutritional quality of a crop plant: Nutritional quality is largely determined by methionine, which is often the most limited of the essential amino acids.

The main thrust of our research recently shifted to analysing sulfur metabolism networks. In a systems biology approach, we investigate the response of Arabidopsis to different periods or degrees of sulfur starvation by applying non-biased, multiparallel tools including transcript, protein, and metabolite profiling. Our results are integrated to form working models for further detailed investigations with a focus on regulatory aspects of metabolism. This work entails the detailed analysis of Arabidopsis mutants and pulls many of our earlier results together into biological context (eg. the increased thiol levels seen during SAT over-expression, glutathione involvement in stress response mechanisms towards active oxygen species, etc.). Our long-term goal is to imbed sulfur metabolism in a broader context such as carbohydrate and nitrogen metabolic networks, which will occur through close collaborations with external and in house research groups.

 

metabolite profiling

metabolite profiling

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Plants are sessile organisms; if they are to survive and reproduce, they must adapt to the growth conditions in which they find themselves. We use variations in sulfur levels as a stimulus and analyse the complex response using diverse multiparallel techniques, particularly transcript and metabolite profiling, trying to piece together the total system response. The plant of choice here is, obviously, Arabidopsis thaliana, although results obtained in this model system are likely to be transferable to other plant species and crop plants. The goal is to provide a consistent and holistic description of plant sulfur metabolism and its regulation.

H Hesse and R Höfgen (2001) Application of Genomics in Agriculture. In: Molecular analysis of plant adapatation to the environment. Eds: Malcolm J. Hawkesford, Peter Buchner. Kluwer AP, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 61-79

V Nikiforova, J Freitag, S Kempa, M Adamik, H Hesse, R Hoefgen (2003) Transcriptome analysis of sulfur depletion in Arabidopsis thaliana: Interlacing of biosynthetic pathways provides response specificity. The Plant Journal, 33, 633-650.

 

Regulation

Plants adapt to available sulfur soil levels by regulating gene expression and protein activity to maintain homeostasis. Sulfur availability in the environment is not static, nor is the plant’s dependence on sulfur at various developmental stages. Thus, one can assume not only that the activities of regulatory proteins are dynamic, but also that changes in the expression of transcription factors involved in triggering downstream gene expression change temporally. Sulfur deprivation triggers a slow adaptive process that resets the level of sulfur homeostasis. Using transcript profiling, we have been able to identify a number of transcription factors involved in this process, which are now the target of further investigations.

 

Metabolome analysis and bioinformatics

system response

system response

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Gene expression, metabolite spectrum and enzyme activities change under sulfur-limiting conditions.

The response of steady state transcription levels to the sulfur stimulus is but the first chapter of the story. To understand the system response, we have to turn the page and look at protein profiles – levels and activities – and before closing the book, at metabolite profiles, which adjust rapidly in response to changes in protein expression. We are now focusing on metabolome analysis: The same samples used for transcriptome analysis are examined using element analysis (ICP-AES) and metabolite analyses (HPLC, CE, GC/MS, GC/TOF, LC/MS), either in house or in collaboration with outside research groups.

Malcolm J. Hawkesford, Rothamsted Research, UK

As these analyses are refined and data accumulates, it will become more and more important to overlay and compare transcript and metabolite profiles in order to try to generate an in silico representation of the plant sulfur regulatory complement. Various approaches are and will be followed here: bioinformatic tools have to be developed and/or adapted to fully mine the data. Otherwise, it will not be possible to fully describe the system: by looking only at the most highly expressed genes in isolation, we would simply be scratching at the surface.

 

Transcriptome Analysis

gene expression

gene expression

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Scatterplots of gene expression of the ratio -/+ S

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Plants and some photoautotrophic bacteria assimilate inorganic sulfur from sulfates into cysteine, the first sulfur-containing organic compound and, effectively, the sole molecular doorway for reduced sulfur in all living beings. This essential process has been as finely tuned through millennia of evolution as photosynthesis. Cysteine is subsequently converted to methionine, and then into a variety of other sulfur-containing organic compounds. Sulfur assimilation is even more spendy in terms of reduction equivalents than nitrogen assimilation. Obviously, such a costly enterprise is highly controlled in juxtaposition with the rest of metabolism.

To elucidate this network of interactions, we stimulate Arabidopsis with sulfur (i.e. sulfate) at its rhizosphere with various concentrations and at different developmental stages to institute periods of starvation and replenishment. The plant tissue samples (roots, shoots) are then subjected to array hybridisation/transcript profiling after RNA extraction using either macro-arrays of 7,200 non-redundant genes on nylon filters and now full genome chips. The expression profiles are processed to select differentially expressed genes. Depending on the duration of treatment, anything between a handful and thousands of genes exhibit altered expression mirroring the gradual response of the system to conditions of altered sulfur availability. Among these responsive genes we expect to find sulfur-regulated genes; genes involved in perception, signalling, and immediate responses; and genes further down the line involved in more pleiotropic mechanisms like general stress responses. Since they arise in response to sulfur stimulation, the latter are still regarded as sulfur-responsive genes.

Sulfur-responsive genes are grouped by functional category or biosynthetic pathway. As expected, genes of the sulfur assimilation pathway are altered in expression. Furthermore, genes involved in the flavonoid, auxin, and jasmonate biosynthesis pathways are up regulated when sulfur is limiting. We focus most of our attention, however, on the regulatory elements, transcription factors.

V Nikiforova, J Freitag, S Kempa, M Adamik, H Hesse, R Hoefgen (2003) Transcriptome analysis of sulfur depletion in Arabidopsis thaliana: Interlacing of biosynthetic pathways provides response specificity. The Plant Journal, 33, 633-650

Further reading

MY Hirai, T Fujiwara, M Awazuhara, T Kimura, M Noji, K Saito (2003) Global expression profiling of sulfur-starved Arabidopsis by DNA macroarray reveals the role of O-acetyl-L-serine as a general regulator of gene expression in response to sulfur nutrition. Plant Journal. 33(4)651-663

A Maruyama-Nakashita, E Inoue, A Watanabe-Takahashi, T Yarnaya, and H Takahashi (2003) Transcriptome profiling of sulfur-responsive genes in Arabidopsis reveals global effects of sulfur nutrition on multiple metabolic pathways. Plant Physiology. 132(2)597-605

Sulfur and Other Plant Nutrients

The plant sulfur assimilation pathway is intricately interconnected with various other pathways and regulatory circuits.

Systems Analysis of Plant Sulfur Metabolism

Every organism is a complex, multi-elemental, multi-functional system living in an ever-changing environment. The viability of the system is provided by, and likewise dependent upon, flexible, effective control circuits of multiple informational fluxes, which interconnect in a dense network of metabolic physiological responses.

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L-cysteine L-Met

L-cysteine L-Met

Methionine is synthesised from cysteine and phosphohomoserine

Methionine is synthesised from cysteine and phosphohomoserine

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Pathway Analysis of Sulfur Containing Amino Acids

To learn about the control mechanisms involved in the biosynthesis of sulfur-containing amino acids, we are isolating and studying genes involved and their promoters. Methionine is synthesised from cysteine and phosphohomoserine via the enzymes cystathionine gamma-synthase (CgS), cystathionine beta-lyase (CbL), and methionine synthase (MS); we have cloned and characterised these three genes in potato.

Biosynthesis of Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids

Biosynthesis of Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids

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Genes from Arabidopsis and potato and, when appropriate, E. coli involved in cysteine and methionine biosynthesis have also been cloned, including various isoforms of O-acetylserine (thiol)-lyase, the enzyme that converts O-acetylserine to cys; ATP-sulfurylase, the enzyme activating the inert sulfate through binding to ATP; and serine acetyltransferase (SAT), the enzyme catalysing the activation of serine to O-acetylserine. We manipulated the expression of these genes in an attempt to create conditions in which flux to either cysteine or methionine is increased.

For example, the over-expression of SAT using an E. coli gene targeted to plastids resulted in cysteine and glutathione (a tripeptide containing glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine) levels almost twice as high as usual. By blocking the competing pathway to threonine using the partial antisense inhibition of threonine synthase in Arabidopsis and potato, we were able to increase leaf and tuber methionine levels significantly. Moreover, analysis of these transformants made it clear that there are species-specific differences in the regulation of methionine biosynthesis.

Our results in Nicotiana plumbaginifolia and potato have established the essential, but not rate-limiting, role of CbL in plant methionine biosynthesis. Furthermore, we found that regulation at the level of CgS differs between the plant species Arabidopsis and potato. Our objective now is to deepen our understanding of the regulation of methionine biosynthesis and to exploit what we learn in order to improve the nutritional quality of crop plants, which is largely determined by methionine content.

Cysteine Biosynthesis

Cysteine biosynthesis represents the essential step in the incorporation of inorganic sulfide to organic sulfur in plants. In order to gain insight into the control mechanisms involved in cysteine biosynthesis, we are isolating and studying the involved genes and their promoters, including genes coding for O-acetylserine(thiol)-lyase (OAS-TL), the enzyme which converts O-acetylserine to cysteine, and serine acetyltransferase (SAT), the enzyme catalysing the activation of serine to O-acetylserine.

Serine acetyltransferase

Serine acetyltransferase

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Serine acetyltransferase

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In addition, spatial and developmental aspects of regulation are investigated with respect to gene expression and enzyme activity. We are manipulating the expression of various genes in transgenic potato plants in an attempt to create conditions in which flux to either cysteine or methionine is increased. For example, the heterologous over-expression of an E. coli SAT gene targeted to plastids resulted in a doubling of both cysteine and glutathione (a tripeptide containing glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine that is involved in stress tolerance) levels. However, these alterations had no effect on outward plant appearance or on the expression and enzymatic activity of OAS-TL. This example demonstrates the importance of SAT in plant cysteine biosynthesis and shows that the accumulation of cysteine and related sulfur-containing compounds is limited by the supply of activated carbon backbones derived from serine. We are currently investigating this and other transgenic plants affected in cysteine and methionine biosynthesis in respect to sulfur assimilation and glutathione-mediated stress tolerance.

Despite the increase of reduced organic sulfur in our potato SAT over-producers, we did not observe an increase in methionine, although other groups reported methionine increases when using a similar approach in maize (Tsakraklides et al., 2002). Again, species specific differences, probably as a result of adaptation to specific environmental or physiological conditions, have to be taken into account, especially when generalising and transferring these data to plant breeding.

V Nikiforova, S Kempa, M Zeh, S Maimann, O Kreft, A P Casazza, K Riedel, E Tauberger, R Hoefgen, H Hesse. (2002) Engineering of cysteine and methionine biosynthesis in potato. Amino Acids 22(259-278).

K Harms, P von Ballmoos, C Brunold, R Höfgen, and H Hesse (2000) Expression of a bacterial serine acetyltransferase in transgenic potato plants leads to increased levels of cysteine and glutathione. Plant J. 22, 335-343

Further reading

MJ Hawkesford (2003) Transporter gene families in plants: the sulphate transporter gene family – redundancy or specialization? Physiologia Plantarum, 117,155-163

G Tsakraklides, M Martin, R Chalam,, MC Tarczynski, A Schmidt, and T Leustek (2002) Sulfate reduction is increased in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana expressing 5′-adenylylsulfate reductase from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Plant J. 32, 879

Annu Rev Nutr. 1986;6:179-209.
Metabolism of sulfur-containing amino acids.

Met metabolism occurs primarily by activation of Met to AdoMet and further metabolism of AdoMet by either the transmethylation-transsulfuration pathway or the polyamine biosynthetic pathway. The catabolism of the methyl group and sulfur atom of Met ultimately appears to be dependent upon the transmethylation-transsulfuration pathway because the MTA formed as the co-product of polyamine synthesis is efficiently recycled to Met. On the other hand, the fate of the four-carbon chain of Met appears to depend upon the initial fate of the Met molecule. During transsulfuration, the carbon chain is released as alpha-ketobutyrate, which is further metabolized to CO2. In the polyamine pathway, the carboxyl carbon of Met is lost in the formation of dAdoMet, whereas the other three carbons are ultimately excreted as polyamine derivatives and degradation products. The role of the transamination pathway of Met metabolism is not firmly established. Cys (which may be formed from the sulfur of Met and the carbons of serine via the transsulfuration pathway) appears to be converted to taurine and CO2 primarily by the cysteinesulfinate pathway, and to sulfate and pyruvate primarily by desulfuration pathways in which a reduced form of sulfur with a relatively long biological half-life appears to be an intermediate. With the exception of the nitrogen of Met that is incorporated into polyamines, the nitrogen of Met or Cys is incorporated into urea after it is released as ammonium [in the reactions catalyzed by cystathionase with either cystathionine (from Met) or cystine (from Cys) as substrate] or it is transferred to a keto acid (in Cys or Met transamination). Many areas of sulfur-containing amino acid metabolism need further study. The magnitude of AdoMet flux through the polyamine pathway in the intact animal as well as details about the reactions involved in this pathway remain to be determined. Both the pathways and the possible physiological role of alternate (AdoMet-independent) Met metabolism, including the transamination pathway, must be elucidated. Despite the growing interest in taurine, investigation of Cys metabolism has been a relatively inactive area during the past two decades. Apparent discrepancies in the reported data on Cys metabolism need to be resolved. Future work should consider the role of extrahepatic tissues in amino acid metabolism as well as species differences in the relative roles of various pathways in the metabolism of Met and Cys.

The Sulfur-Containing Amino Acids: An Overview1,2

John T. Brosnan3 and Margaret E. Brosnan

J. Nutr. June 2006; 136(6): 1636S-1640S

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/6/1636S.full

Methionine and cysteine may be considered to be the principal sulfur-containing amino acids because they are 2 of the canonical 20 amino acids that are incorporated into proteins. However, homocysteine and taurine also play important physiological roles (Fig. 1). Why does nature employ sulfur in her repertoire of amino acids? The other canonical amino acids are comprised only of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms. Because both sulfur and oxygen belong to the same group (Group 6) of the Periodic Table and, therefore, are capable of making similar covalent linkages, the question may be restated: why would methionine and cysteine analogs, in which the sulfur atom is replaced by oxygen, not serve the same functions? One of the critical differences between oxygen and sulfur is sulfur’s lower electronegativity. Indeed, oxygen is the second most electronegative element in the periodic table. This accounts for the use of sulfur in methionine; replacement of the sulfur with oxygen would result in a much less hydrophobic amino acid. Cysteine readily forms disulfide linkages because of the ease with which it dissociates to form a thiolate anion. Serine, on the other hand, which differs from cysteine only in the substitution of an oxygen for the sulfur, does not readily make dioxide linkages. The difference results from the fact that thiols are much stronger acids than are alcohols, so that the alcohol group in serine does not dissociate at physiological pH. Substitution of oxygen for sulfur inS-adenosylmethionine would produce so powerful a methylating agent that it would promiscuously methylate cellular nucleophiles without the need for an enzyme.

FIGURE 1 

Structures of the sulfur-containing amino acids.

Methionine and cysteine in proteins.

Although both methionine and cysteine play critical roles in cell metabolism, we suggest that, in general, the 20 canonical amino acids were selected for the roles they play in proteins, not their roles in metabolism. It is important, therefore, to review the role played by these amino acids in proteins. Methionine is among the most hydrophobic of the amino acids. This means that most of the methionine residues in globular proteins are found in the interior hydrophobic core; in membrane-spanning protein domains, methionine is often found to interact with the lipid bilayer. In some proteins a fraction of the methionine residues are somewhat surface exposed. These are susceptible to oxidation to methionine sulfoxide residues. Levine et al. (1) regard these methionine residues as endogenous antioxidants in proteins. In E. coli glutamine synthetase, they tend to be arrayed around the active site and may guard access to this site by reactive oxygen species. Oxidation of these methionine residues has little effect on the catalytic activity of the enzyme. These residues may be reduced to methionine by means of the enzyme methionine sulfoxide reductase (2). Thus, an oxidation–reduction cycle occurs in which exposed methionine residues are oxidized (e.g., by H2O2) to methionine sulfoxide residues, which are subsequently reduced:FormulaFormula

It is considered that the impaired activity of methionine sulfoxide reductase and the subsequent accumulation of methionine sulfoxide residues are associated with age-related diseases, neurodegeneration, and shorter lifespan (2).

Methionine is the initiating amino acid in the synthesis of eukaryotic proteins; N-formyl methionine serves the same function in prokaryotes. Because most of these methionine residues are subsequently removed, it is apparent that their role lies in the initiation of translation, not in protein structure. In eukaryotes, translation initiation involves the association of the initiator tRNA (met-tRNAimet) with eIF-2 and the 40S ribosomal subunit together with a molecule of mRNA. Drabkin and Rajbhandary (3) suggest that the hydrophobic nature of methionine is key to the binding of the initiator tRNA to eIF-2. Using appropriate double mutations (in codon and anticodon), they were able to show that the hydrophobic valine could be used for initiation in mammalian cells but that the polar glutamine was very poor.

Cysteine plays a critical role in protein structure by virtue of its ability to form inter- and intrachain disulfide bonds with other cysteine residues. Most disulfide linkages are found in proteins destined for export or residence on the plasma membrane. These disulfide bonds can be formed nonenzymatically; protein disulfide isomerase, an endoplasmic reticulum protein, can reshuffle any mismatched disulfides to ensure the correct protein folding (4).

S-Adenosylmethionine.

S-Adenosylmethionine (SAM)4 is a key intermediate in methionine metabolism. Discovered in 1953 by Cantoni (5) as the “active methionine” required for the methylation of guanidioacetate to creatine, it is now evident that SAM is a coenzyme of remarkable versatility (Fig. 2). In addition to its role as a methyl donor, SAM serves as a source of methylene groups (for the synthesis of cyclopropyl fatty acids), amino groups (in biotin synthesis), aminoisopropyl groups (in the synthesis of polyamines and, also, in the synthesis of ethylene, used by plants to promote plant ripening), and 5′-deoxyadenosyl radicals. SAM also serves as a source of sulfur atoms in the synthesis of biotin and lipoic acid (6). In mammals, however, the great bulk of SAM is used in methyltransferase reactions. The key to SAM’s utility as a methyl donor lies in the sulfonium ion and in the electrophilic nature of the carbon atoms that are adjacent to the sulfur atom. The essence of these methyltransferase reactions is that the positively charged sulfonium renders the adjoining methyl group electron-poor, which facilitates its attack on electron-rich acceptors (nucleophiles).

Metabolic versatility of S-adenosylmethionine.

Metabolic versatility of S-adenosylmethionine.

FIGURE 2 

Metabolic versatility of S-adenosylmethionine.

SAM can donate its methyl group to a wide variety of acceptors, including amino acid residues in proteins, DNA, RNA, small molecules, and even to a metal, the methylation of arsenite (7,8). At present, about 60 methyltransferases have been identified in mammals. However, the number is almost certainly much larger. A bioinformatic analysis of a number of genomes, including the human genome, by Katz et al. (9) has suggested that Class-1 SAM-dependent methyltransferases account for 0.6–1.6% of open reading frames in these genomes. This would indicate about 300 Class 1 methyltransferases in humans, in addition to a smaller number of Class 2 and 3 enzymes. In humans, it appears that guanidinoacetate N-methyltransferase (responsible for creatine synthesis) and phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (synthesis of phosphatidylcholine) are the major users of SAM (10). In addition, there is substantial flux through the glycine N-methyltransferase (GNMT) when methionine intakes are high (11). An important property of all known SAM-dependent methyltransferases is that they are inhibited by their product, S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH).

Methionine metabolism.

Methionine metabolism begins with its activation to SAM (Fig. 3) by methionine adenosyltransferase (MAT). The reaction is unusual in that all 3 phosphates are removed from ATP, an indication of the “high-energy” nature of this sulfonium ion. SAM then donates its methyl group to an acceptor to produce SAH. SAH is hydrolyzed to homocysteine and adenosine by SAH hydrolase. This sequence of reactions is referred to as transmethylation and is ubiquitously present in cells. Homocysteine may be methylated back to methionine by the ubiquitously distributed methionine synthase (MS) and, also, in the liver as well as the kidney of some species, by betaine:homocysteine methyltransferase (BHMT). MS employs 5-methyl-THF as its methyl donor, whereas BHMT employs betaine, which is produced during choline oxidation as well as being provided by the diet (10). Both MS and BHMT effect remethylation, and the combination of transmethylation andremethylation comprise the methionine cycle, which occurs in most, if not all, cells.

FIGURE 3 
Major pathways of sulfur-containing amino acid metabolism.

Major pathways of sulfur-containing amino acid metabolism.

Major pathways of sulfur-containing amino acid metabolism.

The methionine cycle does not result in the catabolism of methionine. This is brought about by the transsulfuration pathway, which converts homocysteine to cysteine by the combined actions of cystathionine β-synthase (CBS) and cystathionine γ-lyase (CGL). The transsulfuration pathway has a very limited tissue distribution; it is restricted to the liver, kidney, intestine, and pancreas. The conversion of methionine to cysteine is an irreversible process, which accounts for the well-known nutritional principle that cysteine is not a dietary essential amino acid provided that adequate methionine is available, but methionine is a dietary essential amino acid, regardless of cysteine availability. This pathway for methionine catabolism suggests a paradox: is methionine catabolism constrained by the need for methylation reactions? If this were so, the methionine in a methionine-rich diet might exceed the methylation demand so that full catabolism could not occur via this pathway. GNMT methylates glycine to sarcosine, which may, in turn, be metabolized by sarcosine dehydrogenase to regenerate the glycine and oxidize the methyl group to 5,10-methylene-THF.

Application of sophisticated stable isotope tracer methodology to methionine metabolism in humans has yielded estimates of transmethylation, remethylation, and transsulfuration. Such studies reveal important points of regulation. For example, the sparing effect of cysteine on methionine requirements is evident as an increase in the fraction of the homocysteine pool that is remethylated and a decrease in the fraction that undergoes transsulfuration (12). In young adults ingesting a diet containing 1–1.5 g protein·kg−1·d−1, about 43% of the homocysteine pool was remethylated, and 57% was metabolized through the transsulfuration pathway (transmethylation = 9.7, transulfuration = 5.4, remethylation = 4.4 μmol·kg−1·h−1) (13).

Methionine metabolism affords a remarkable example of the role of vitamins in cell chemistry. MS utilizes methylcobalamin as a prosthetic group, 1 of only 2 mammalian enzymes that are known to require Vitamin B-12. The methyl group utilized by MS is provided from the folic acid 1-carbon pool. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), which reduces 5,10-methylene-THF to 5-methyl-THF, contains FAD as a prosthetic group. Both of the enzymes in the transsulfuration pathway (CBS and CGL) contain pyridoxal phosphate. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that deficiencies of each of these vitamins (Vitamin B-12, folic acid, riboflavin, and pyridoxine) are associated with elevated plasma homocysteine levels. The oxidative decarboxylation of the α-ketobutyrate produced by CGL is brought about by pyruvate dehydrogenase so that niacin (NAD), thiamine (thiamine pyrophosphate), and pantothenic acid (coenzyme A) may also be regarded as being required for methionine metabolism.

Not only are vitamins required for methionine metabolism, but methionine metabolism plays a crucial role in the cellular assimilation of folate. MS has 2 principal functions. In addition to its role in methionine conservation, MS converts 5-methyl-THF to THF, thereby making it available to support DNA synthesis and other functions. Because 5-methyl-THF is the dominant circulating form that is taken into cells, MS is essential for cellular folate assimilation. Impaired MS activity (e.g., brought about by cobalamin deficiency) results in the accumulation of the folate coenzymes as 5-methyl-THF, the so-called methyl trap (14). This hypothesis explains the fact that Vitamin B-12 deficiency causes a functional cellular folate deficiency.

The combined transmethylation and transsulfuration pathways are responsible for the catabolism of the great bulk of methionine. However, there is also evidence for the occurrence of a SAM-independent catabolic pathway that begins with a transamination reaction (15). This is a very minor pathway under normal circumstances, but it becomes more significant at very high methionine concentrations. Because it produces powerful toxins such as methane thiol, it has been considered to be responsible for methionine toxicity. The identity of the initiating transaminase is uncertain; the glutamine transaminase can act on methionine, but it is thought to be unlikely to do so under physiological conditions (15). In view of the likelihood that this pathway plays a role in methionine toxicity, more work is warranted on its components, tissue distribution, and physiological function.

Regulation of methionine metabolism.

The major means by which methionine metabolism is regulated are 1) allosteric regulation by SAM and 2) regulation of the expression of key enzymes. In the liver, SAM exerts powerful effects at a variety of loci. The liver-specific MAT has a highKm for methionine and, therefore, is well fitted to remove excess dietary methionine. It exhibits the unusual property of feedback activation; it is activated by its product, SAM (16). This property has been incorporated into a computer model of hepatic methionine metabolism, and it is clear that it renders methionine disposal exquisitely sensitive to the methionine concentration (17). SAM is also an allosteric activator of CBS and an allosteric inhibitor of MTHFR (18). Therefore, elevated SAM promotes transsulfuration (methionine oxidation) and inhibits remethylation (methionine conservation). Many of the enzymes involved in methionine catabolism (MAT 1, GNMT, CBS) are increased in activity on ingestion of a high-protein diet (18).

In addition to its function in methionine catabolism, the transsulfuration pathway also provides cysteine for glutathione synthesis. Cysteine availability is often limiting for glutathione synthesis, and it appears that in a number of cells (e.g., hepatocytes), at least half of the cysteine required is provided by transsulfuration, even in the presence of physiological concentrations of cysteine (19). Transsulfuration is sensitive to the balance of prooxidants and antioxidants; peroxides increase the transsulfuration flux, whereas antioxidants decrease it (20). It is thought that redox regulation of the transsulfuration pathway occurs at the level of CBS, which contains a heme that may serve as a sensor of the oxidative environment (21).

Taurine.

Taurine is remarkable, both for its high concentrations in animal tissues and because of the variety of functions that have been ascribed to it. Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in animal tissues. Table 1 shows that, although taurine accounts for only 3% of the free amino acid pool in plasma, it accounts for 25%, 50%, 53%, and 19%, respectively, of this pool in liver, kidney, muscle, and brain. The magnitude of the intracellular taurine pool deserves comment. For example, skeletal muscle contains 15.6 μmol of taurine per gram of tissue, which amounts to an intracellular concentration of about 25 mM. In addition to its role in the synthesis of the bile salt taurocholate, taurine has been proposed, inter alia, to act as an antioxidant, an intracellular osmolyte, a membrane stabilizer, and a neurotransmitter. It is an essential nutrient for cats; kittens born to mothers fed taurine-deficient diets exhibit retinal degeneration (24). Taurine is found in mother’s milk, may be conditionally essential for human infants, and is routinely added to most infant formulas. Recent work has begun to reveal taurine’s action in the retina. It appears that taurine, via an effect on a glycine receptor, promotes the generation of rod photoreceptor cells from retinal progenitor cells (25).

View this table:

TABLE 1

Taurine concentrations in rat tissues (22,23)

Perspective.

The sulfur-containing amino acids present a fascinating subject to the protein chemist, the nutritionist, and the metabolic scientist, alike. They play critical roles in protein synthesis, structure, and function. Their metabolism is vital for many critical functions. SAM, a remarkably versatile molecule, is said to be second, only to ATP, in the number of enzymes that require it. Vitamins play a crucial role in the metabolism of these amino acids, which, in turn, play a role in folic acid assimilation. Despite the great advances in our knowledge of the sulfur-containing amino acids, there are important areas where further work is required. These include methionine transamination and the molecular basis for the many functions of taurine.

Disorders of Sulfur Amino Acid Metabolism

  • Generoso Andria,  Brian Fowler,  Gianfranco Sebastio

Chapter  Inborn Metabolic Diseases  pp 224-231

Editors

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-662-04285-4_18

http://dx.doi.org:/10.1007/978-3-662-04285-4_18

Several defects can exist in the conversion of the sulfur-containing amino acid methionine to cysteine and the ultimate oxidation of cysteine to inorganic sulfate (Fig. 18.1). Cystathionine-β-synthase (CBS) deficiency is the most important. It is associated with severe abnormalities of four organs or organ systems: the eye (dislocation of the lens), the skeleton (dolichostenomelia and arachnodactyly), the vascular system (thromboembolism), and the central nervous system (mental retardation, cerebrovascular accidents). A low-methionine, highcystine diet, pyridoxine, folate, and betaine in various combinations, and antithrombotic treatment may halt the otherwise unfavorable course of the disease. Methionine adenosyltransferase deficiency and γ-cystathionase deficiency usually do not require treatment. Isolated sulfite oxidase deficiency leads (in its severe form) to refractory convulsions, lens dislocation, and early death. No effective treatment exists.

  1. 1.

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    Boushey CJ, Beresford SA, Omenn GS, Motulsky AG (1995) A quantitative assessment of plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for vascular disease. Probable benefits of increasing folic acid intakes. JAMA 274: 1049–1057

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    Mudd SH, Skovby F, Levy HL, Pettigrew KD, Wilcken B, Pyeritz RE, Andria G, Boers GHJ, Bromberg IL, Cerone R, Fowler B, Grobe H, Schmidt H, Schweitzer L (1985) The natural history of homocystinuria due to cystathionine (3-synthase deficiency. Am J Hum Genet 37: 1–31 PubMed

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    de Franchis R, Sperandeo MP, Sebastio G, Andria G. The Italian Collaborative Study Group on Homocystinuria (1998) Clinical aspects of cystathionine ß-synthase deficiency: how wide is the spectrum? Eur J Pediatr 157: S67–7o

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    Kraus JP (1994) Molecular basis of phenotype expression in homocystinuria. J Inherited Metab Dis 17: 383–390 PubMedCrossRef

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The Colors of Life Function

Writer and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP 

2.5.1 Type 1 Copper Proteins

The Cu(II) state of this category has an intense blue color due to a thiolate ligand
to Cu(II) charge transfer, and unusual EPR properties arising from the asymmetrical
Cu site (distorted trigonal-pyramidal). The proteins all have a low molecular
mass and have, so far, rather arbitrarily been divided into sub-groups, such as
azurins, plastocyanins, pseudoazurins, amicyanins and various other blue
proteins. Of these the azurins, amicyanins, pseudo-azurins and plastocyanins
apparently have similar copper coordination by two histidine, one cysteine and
one methionine residue. Where the function of Type I copper proteins is known,
it is invariably electron transfer. As yet the names for these proteins are all trivial
and are often derived from source, function or color. The different classes are
usually discerned on the basis of their primary and tertiary structure.

The first bacterial blue proteins to be described were called azurins. Rusticyanin is
another example of a bacterial protein. It has unusual properties with a reduction
potential of 680 mV, and is functional at pH 2. The azurins have well-defined electron
-transfer functions.

The so-called pseudo-azurins differ from the azurins in the N-terminal amino acid
sequence and the optical spectra, which resemble those of plastocyanins.

The blue proteins known as plastocyanins occur in plants, blue-green and green
algae. Their electron transfer role is well defined, i.e. from the bc1 complex
(EC 1.10.2.2) to the photooxidized P-700.

Amicyanins are electron carriers between methylamine dehydrogenase and
cytochrome c, with a characteristic amino acid sequence.

Of the remaining blue proteins stellacyanin is a well- known example. Umecyanin,
plantacyanin and mavicyanin are also considered to belong to this group.
Although these proteins undergo redox reactions in vitro, their true biological
function remains unknown. Most of these proteins exhibit an unusual EPR signal
in which the copper hyperfine splitting pattern is poorly resolved. There is good
evidence that at least for stellacyanin, methionine does not function as a ligand
for copper.

2.5.2 Type 2 Copper Proteins

The copper centres in these proteins are spectroscopically consistent with square
planar or pyramidal coordination, containing oxygen and/or nitrogen ligation.
The Cu(II) is EPR active, with a ‘normal’ signal. There is no intense blue color.
This group includes the copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (EC 1.15.1.1),
dopamine b-monooxygenase (EC 1.14.17.1), galactose oxidase (EC 1.1.3.9)
and the various copper-containing amine oxidases. Some members of this last
group may also contain an organic prosthetic group, such as PQQ
(see section 10), or a modified amino-acid residue.

2.5.3 Type 3 Copper Proteins

In this group a pair of copper atoms comprise a dinuclear centre, with no EPR
activity as for single Cu’s. The best known example of an enzyme containing a
single Type 3 centre is tyrosinase (catechol oxidase, EC 1.10.3.1). This protein
contains a metal center which is a structural analogue of the dinuclear copper
center in hemocyanin (ref 31).

2.5.4 Multi-Copper Oxidases

In addition to the above, there are several proteins with catalytic activity that
contain Types 1, 2 and 3 centres in various stoichiometric ratios. These
include L-ascorbate oxidase (EC 1.10.3.3), laccase (EC 1.10.3.2) and
ceruloplasmin (ferro-oxidase, EC 1.16.3.1), the latter two having aromatic diamine
and diphenol oxidase activity. There is growing evidence that in these proteins
the Type 2 and Type 3 copper centres are juxtaposed. Recently it has been
shown that in L-ascorbate oxidase, a trinuclear copper site is present, consisting
of a type 3 copper site, very close (3.9 Å) and possibly bridged to a type 2 copper
site (ref 32). There is a view that ceruloplasmin functions as a ferro-oxidase
and the Fe(III) produced in this reaction can then oxidize the same substrates
as laccase.

2.5.5 Copper Centres in Cytochrome Oxidase

There are two copper centres that appear to be unique. Both are present in
cytochrome-c oxidase (EC 1.9.3.1). The first appears to be an isolated metal ion
and has been referred to as Cud and CuA. The second appears to be part
of a dinuclear centre with cytochrome a3. It has been referred to as Cuu,
Cua3 and CuB. At the moment the ascriptions CuA and CuB are most frequently
used; however, the recent discovery (ref 33) of a cytochrome oxidase in which
cytochrome a has been replaced by cytochrome b, leads to the recommendation
that CuB shall be referred to as Cua3.

There is a striking similarity between two of the Cu centres of N2O reductase
and CuA (ref 34, 35).

2.5.6 Molybdenum enzymes (general)

Molybdenum enzymes contain molybdenum at the catalytic center responsible
for reaction with substrate. They may be divided into those that contain
the iron-molybdenum cofactor and those that contain the pterin-molybdenum
cofactor.

2.5.7 Additional centers

If a molybdenum enzyme contains flavin, it may be called either a molybdenum
flavoprotein or a flavomolybdenum protein, as indicated above. Other centers
should be treated similarly, e.g. an iron-sulfur molybdenum protein.

2.5.8 Molybdenum enzymes containing the iron-molybdenum cofactor

The only enzymes at present known to belong to this group are the nitrogenases
(EC 1.18.6.1; and EC 1.19.6.1): see pp 89-116 in (ref 36) and pp 91-100 in (ref 37).

2.5.9 Molybdenum enzymes containing the pterin-molybdenum cofactor

These enzymes [see pp 411-415 in (ref 36) and (ref 38)] may be divided
into those in which the molybdenum bears a cyanide-labile sulfido (or thio
– see Note 1) ligand i.e. containing the S2- ligand as Mo=S) and those
lacking this ligand. The former group includes xanthine oxidase (EC 1.1.3.22),
xanthine dehydrogenase (EC 1.1.1.204), aldehyde oxidase (EC 1.2.3.1) and
purine hydroxylase (EC: see Note 2 and 3). These may be called ‘molybdenum-
containing hydroxylase’ as is widely done. Molybdenum enzymes lacking the
sulfide (thio) ligand include sulfite oxidase (EC 1.8.3.1), NAD(P)+-independent
aldehyde dehydrogenase and nitrate reductases (assimilatory and dissimilatory)
(EC 1.6.6.1-3).

2.5.10 Molybdenum enzymes containing the pterin-molybdenum cofactor

These enzymes [see pp 411-415 in (ref 36) and (ref 38)] may be divided into those
in which the molybdenum bears a cyanide-labile sulfido (or thio – see Note 1)
ligand i.e. containing the S2- ligand as Mo=S) and those lacking this ligand. The
former group includes xanthine oxidase (EC 1.1.3.22), xanthine dehydrogenase
(EC 1.1.1.204), aldehyde oxidase (EC 1.2.3.1) and purine hydroxylase. These
may be called ‘molybdenum-containing hydroxylase’ as is widely done.
Molybdenum enzymes lacking the sulfide (thio) ligand include sulfite oxidase
(EC 1.8.3.1), NAD(P)+-independent aldehyde dehydrogenase and nitrate
reductases (assimilatory and dissimilatory) (EC 1.6.6.1-3).

2.5.11 Metal-Substituted Metalloproteins

Scientists from several areas, dealing with spectroscopy and electron-transfer
mechanisms, often use metalloproteins in which a metal at the active site has
been substituted by another metal ion, like Co, Zn, Hg, Cd. Examples are zinc-
substituted cytochromes and cobalt-substituted ferredoxins.

The names for such modified proteins are easily given by using indications
like: ‘zinc-substituted ….’. In case of multi-metal proteins, where ambiguity might
arise about which metal has been substituted, one could easily add in parentheses
the name of the metal that has been replaced, such as: cobalt- substituted [Fe]
nitrogenase.

In formulae fragments or short names one could use the following notation:
[3Fe1Co-4S]2+, cytochrome c'[Fe[arrow right]CoFe], plastocyanin[Cu
[arrow right]Hg].

Ambler, R.P. (1980) in From Cyclotrons to Cytochromes (Kaplan, N.O. &
Robinson, A., eds) Academic Press, New York

Moore, G. & Pettigrew, F.(1987) Cytochromes c, Springer-Verlag, Berlin

Bartsch, R.G. (1963) in Bacterial Photosynthesis (Gest, H., San Pietro, A. &
Vernon, L.P., ed.) p. 315, Antioch Press, Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Stiefel, E.I. & Cramer, S.P. (1985) in Molybdenum Enzymes (Spiro, T.G., ed.),
Wiley-Interscience, New York, 89-116.

Smith B.E. et al. (1988), in Nitrogen Fixation Hundred Years After (Bothe,
H., de Bruijn, F.J. & Newton, W.E., ed.), Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart, New York,
91-100

Type-2 copper-containing enzymes.
MacPherson IS1, Murphy ME.
Cell Mol Life Sci. 2007 Nov;64(22):2887-99.

Type-2  Cu sites are found in all the major branches of life and are often
involved in the catalysis of oxygen species. Four type-2 Cu protein
families are selected as model systems for review: amine oxidases,
Cu monooxygenases, nitrite reductase/multicopper oxidase, and
CuZn superoxide dismutase. For each model protein, the availability
of multiple crystal structures and detailed enzymological studies provides
a detailed molecular view of the type-2 Cu site and delineation of the
mechanistic role of the Cu in biological function. Comparison of these
model proteins leads to the identification of common properties of the
Cu sites and insight into the evolution of the trinuclear active site found
in multicopper oxidases.

Copper proteins and copper enzymes.
Cass AE, Hill HA.
Ciba Found Symp. 1980;79:71-91.
http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/caeruloplasmin/copper_proteins/t1.htm

The copper proteins that function in homeostasis, electron transport, dioxygen
transport and oxidation are discussed. Particular emphasis is placed on the
role of the ligands, their type and disposition which, in conjunction with other
residues in the active site, determine the role of the copper ion. It is proposed that
copper proteins can be considered in four groups. Those in Group I contain a
single copper ion in an approximately tetrahedral environment with nitrogen and
sulphur-containing ligands. Group II proteins have a single copper ion in a square-
planar-like arrangement. Group III proteins have two copper ions in close
proximity. Group IV consists of multi-opper proteins, composed of sites
representative of the other three groups.

Such centers owe their name to the intense blue coloration of the corresponding
Cu(II) proteins. The color is particularly distinctive since the metal centers are
so optically diluted in these metalloenzymes that only intense absorption in the
visible region, resulting from symmetry allowed electronic transitions, can give
rise to conspicuous colors. In contrast, the comparatively pale blue color of normal
Cu(II)) is the result of forbidden electronic transitions between d-orbitals of
different symmetry; in Cu2+(aq) this gives a molar extinction coefficient of
10 M-1cm-1 from a broad absorption between 10,000 cm-1 and 15,000 cm-1
compared to about 3000 M-1cm-1 observed for blue Cu(II) centers.  For the
T1 centers the intense absorption is attributed to a ligand-to-metal charge
transfer between the Cu2+ and a bonded cysteinate ligand. Typically, as in
azurin or plastocyanin this occurs around 16,000 cm-1. Ceruloplasmin has
three T1 centers, and the blue absorption is at 16,400 cm-1 (610nm).

Plastocyanine geometry

around the copper Crystal structures show a very irregular ‘tetrahedral’ coordination
with two sulphurs from methionine and cysteinate, and two histidine nitrogens.
However a comparison of azurin with plastocyanin shows that the geometry
is in some ways closer to a trigonal bipyramid, with and without one extra apical
ligand, so that azurin has a weakly bound glutamine oxygen, and plastocyanine
does not. The T1 coppers in caruloplasmin are in plastocyanine-type domains.
Each of these are coordinated to two histidines and a cysteine, in two of the T1
domains there is also a methionine residue, the third T1 domain has a leucine
residue which may only have a van der Waals type contact with the copper.

T1 copper centers are functional in the reversible electron transfer:

Cu2+ + e-   =   Cu+

The strongly distorted geometry represents a compromise (entactic-state
situation) between d10 Cu(I), with its preferred tetrahedral or trigonal
coordination through soft sulfur ligands, and d9 Cu(II) with preferential
square planar or square pyramidal geometry and nitrogen ligand
coordination.   This irregular, high energy arrangement at the metal
center resembles the transition-state geometry between the tetrahedral
and square planar equilibrium configurations of the two oxidation states
involved and permits enhanced rates of electron transfer. The potential
range for proteins with T1 copper centers runs from 180 mV in
stellacyanin to 680 mV in rusticyanin.

Zinc proteins: enzymes, storage proteins, transcription factors, and replication
proteins.
Coleman JE.
Annu Rev Biochem. 1992;61:897-946.

In the past five years there has been a great expansion in our knowledge of
the role of zinc in the structure and function of proteins. Not only is zinc
required for essential catalytic functions in enzymes (more than 300 are known
at present), but also it stabilizes and even induces the folding of protein
subdomains. The latter functions have been most dramatically illustrated
by the discovery of the essential role of zinc in the folding of the DNA-binding
domains of eukaryotic transcription factors, including the zinc
finger transcription factors, the large family of hormone receptor proteins,
and the zinc cluster transcription factors from yeasts. Similar functions are
highly probable for the zinc found in the RNA polymerases and the zinc-
containing accessory proteins involved in nucleic acid replication. The rapid
increase in the number and nature of the proteins in which zinc functions
is not unexpected since zinc is the second most abundant trace metal found in
eukaryotic organisms, second only to iron. If one subtracts the amount of iron
found in hemoglobin, zinc becomes the most abundant trace metal found
in the human body.

Zinc Coordination Spheres in Protein Structures
ACS ChemWorx
Mikko Laitaoja , Jarkko Valjakka , and Janne Jänis
Inorg. Chem., 2013, 52 (19), pp 10983–10991
http://dx.doi.org:/10.1021/ic401072d
Sept 23, 2013

Synopsis
A statistical analysis in terms of zinc coordinating amino acids, metal-to-ligand
bond lengths, coordination number, and structural classification was performed,
revealing coordination spheres from classical tetrahedral cysteine/histidine binding
sites to more complex binuclear sites with carboxylated lysine residues. According
to the results, coordination spheres of hundreds of crystal structures in the PDB
could be misinterpreted due to symmetry-related molecules or missing electron
densities for ligands.

Protein-folding location can regulate manganese-binding versus copper- or
zinc-binding.
Tottey S, Waldron KJ, Firbank SJ, Reale B, Bessant C, Sato K, Cheek TR, et al.
Nature. 2008 Oct 23;455(7216):1138-42. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/nature07340

Metals are needed by at least one-quarter of all proteins. Although metallo-
chaperones insert the correct metal into some proteins, they have not been
found for the vast majority, and the view is that most metalloproteins acquire
their metals directly from cellular pools. However, some metals form more
stable complexes with proteins than do others. For instance, as described
in the Irving-Williams series, Cu(2+) and Zn(2+) typically form more stable
complexes than Mn(2+). Thus it is unclear what cellular mechanisms manage
metal acquisition by most nascent proteins. To investigate this question, we
identified the most abundant Cu(2+)-protein, CucA (Cu(2+)-cupin A), and the
most abundant Mn(2+)-protein, MncA (Mn(2+)-cupin A), in the periplasm of
the cyanobacterium Synechocystis PCC 6803. Each of these newly identified
proteins binds its respective metal via identical  ligands within a cupin fold.
Consistent with the Irving-Williams series, MncA only binds Mn(2+) after
folding in solutions containing at least a 10(4) times molar excess of Mn(2+)
over Cu(2+) or Zn(2+). However once MncA has bound Mn(2+), the metal
does not exchange with Cu(2+). MncA and CucA have signal peptides for
different export pathways into the periplasm, Tat and Sec respectively. Export
by the Tat pathway allows MncA to fold in the cytoplasm, which contains only
tightly bound copper or Zn(2+) (refs 10-12) but micromolar Mn(2+) (ref. 13). In
contrast, CucA folds in the periplasm to acquire Cu(2+). These results reveal
a mechanism whereby the compartment in which a protein folds overrides its
binding preference to control its metal content. They explain why the cytoplasm
must contain only tightly bound and buffered copper and Zn(2+).

Predicting copper-, iron-, and zinc-binding proteins in pathogenic species of the
Paracoccidioides genus
GB Tristão, L do Prado Assunção, LPA dos Santos, CL Borges, MG Silva-Bailão,
CM de Almeida Soares, G Cavallaro and AM Bailão*
Front. Microbiol., 9 Jan 2015 http://dx.doi.org:/10.3389/fmicb.2014.00761

Approximately one-third of all proteins have been estimated to contain at least
one metal cofactor, and these proteins are referred to as metalloproteins. These
represent one of the most diverse classes of proteins, containing metal ions that
bind to specific sites to perform catalytic, regulatory and structural functions.
Bioinformatic tools have been developed to predict metalloproteins encoded by
an organism based only on its genome sequence. Its function and the type of
metal binder can also be predicted via a bioinformatics approach.  Paracoccidioides
complex includes termodimorphic pathogenic fungi that are found as saprobic
mycelia in the environment and as yeast, the parasitic form, in host tissues. They
are the etiologic agents of Paracoccidioidomycosis, a prevalent systemic mycosis
in Latin America. Many metalloproteins are important for the virulence of several
pathogenic microorganisms. Accordingly, the present work aimed to predict the
copper, iron and zinc proteins encoded by the genomes of three phylogenetic species
of Paracoccidioides (Pb01, Pb03, andPb18). The metalloproteins were identified
using bioinformatics approaches based on structure, annotation and domains. Cu-,
Fe-, and Zn-binding proteins represent 7% of the total proteins encoded by
Paracoccidioides spp. genomes. Zinc proteins were the most abundant metallo-
proteins, representing 5.7% of the fungus proteome, whereas copper and iron
proteins represent 0.3 and 1.2%, respectively. Functional classification revealed that
metalloproteins are related to many cellular processes. Furthermore, it was observed
that many of these metalloproteins serve as virulence factors in the biology of the
fungus. Thus, it is concluded that the Cu, Fe, and Zn metalloproteomes of the
Paracoccidioides spp. are of the utmost importance for the biology and virulence
of these particular human pathogens.

Zinc finger proteins: new insights into structural and functional diversity
John H Laity, Brian M Lee, Peter E Wright
Current Opinion in Structural Biology Feb 2001; 11(1): 39–46
http://epigenie.com/key-epigenetic-players/chromatin-modifying-and-dna-
binding-proteins/zinc-finger-proteins/

Zinc finger proteins are among the most abundant proteins in eukaryotic genomes.
Their functions are extraordinarily diverse and include DNA recognition, RNA
packaging, transcriptional activation, regulation of apoptosis, protein folding
and assembly, and lipid binding. Zinc finger structures are as diverse as their
functions. Structures have recently been reported for many new zinc finger
domains with novel topologies, providing important insights into structure/function
relationships. In addition, new structural studies of proteins containing the
classical Cys2His2 zinc finger motif have led to novel insights into mechanisms
of DNA binding and to a better understanding of their broader functions in
transcriptional regulation.

Zinc Finger Proteins

Zinc finger (ZnF) proteins are a massive, diverse family of proteins that serve a
wide variety of biological functions. Due to their diversity, it is difficult to come up
with a simple definition of what unites all ZnF proteins; however, the most common
approach is to define them as all small, functional domains that require coordination
by at least one zinc ion (Laity et al., 2001). The zinc ion serves to stabilize the
integration of the protein itself, and is generally not involved in binding targets.
The “finger” refers to the secondary structures (α-helix and β-sheet) that are
held together by the Zn ion. Zinc finger containing domains typically serve
as interactors, binding DNA, RNA, proteins or small molecules (Laity et al., 2001).

ZnF Protein Families

Cys2His2 was the first domain discovered (also known as Krüppel-type). It was
initially discovered as a repeating domain in the IIIA transcription factor in
Xenopus laevis (Brown et al., 1985; Miller et al., 1985). IIIA has nine repeats
of the 30 amino acids that make up the Cys2His2 domain. Each domain forms
a left-handed ββα secondary structure, and coordinates a Zn ion between
two cysteines on the β-sheet hairpin and two histidines in the α-helix, hence
the name Cys2His2 (Lee et al., 1989). These resides are highly conserved,
as well as a general hydrophobic core that allows the helix to form. The other
residues can show great sequence diversity (Michael et al., 1992). Cys2His2
zinc fingers that bind DNA tend to have 2-4 tandem domains as part of a
larger protein. The residues of the alpha helices form specific contacts with a
specific DNA sequence motif by “reading” the nucleotides in major groove
of DNA (Elrod-Erickson et al., 1996; Pavletich and Pabo, 1991). Cys2His2
proteins are the biggest group of transcription factors in most species. Non-
DNA binding proteins can have much more flexible tertiary structure.
Examples of Cys2His2 proteins include the Inhibitor of Apoptosis (IAP) family
of proteins and the CTFC transcription factor.

Treble clef fingers are a very diverse group of ZnF protiens both in terms of
structure and function. What makes them a family is a shared fold at their core
that looks a little like a musical treble clef, especially if you squint (Grishin,
2001). Most treble clef finger motifs have a β hairpin, a variable loop region,
a β hairpin, and an α helix. The “knuckle” of the β hairpin and the α helix contain
the Cys-x-x-Cys sequence necessary to coordinate the Zn ion. Treble clef
fingers often form the core of protein structures, for example the L24E and
S14 ribosomal proteins and the RING finger family.

Zinc ribbons are a little less structurally complex than the other two major groups.
Zinc ribbons contain two zinc knuckles, often β hairpins, coordinating a zinc ion via
a two Cys residures separated by 2-4 other residues on one knuckle, and a Cys-x-x-
Cys on the other (Hahn and Roberts, 2000). Examples of zinc ribbon-containing
proteins include the basal transcription factors TFIIS and TFIIB that for a complex
with RNAPII to bind DNA, and the Npl4 nuclear core protein that uses a zinc ribbon
to bind ubiquitin (Alam et al., 2004). Cys2His2, treble clef fingers, and zinc ribbons
form the majority of zinc fingers, but there are several other smaller groups that
don’t fit neatly into these three. Green fluorescent protein as a marker for gene
expression.

Metallothionein proteins expression, copper and zinc concentrations, and lipid
peroxidation level in a rodent model for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
E Tokuda, Shin-Ichi Ono,  K Ishige, A Naganuma, Y Ito, T Suzuki
Toxicology Jan 2007; 229(1–2): 33–41

It has been hypothesized that copper-mediated oxidative stress contributes to the
pathogenesis of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal motor neuron
disease in humans. To verify this hypothesis, we examined the copper and zinc
concentrations and the amounts of lipid peroxides, together with that of the
expression of metallothionein (MT) isoforms in a mouse model [superoxide
dismutase1 transgenic (SOD1 Tg) mouse] of ALS. The expression of MT-I and
MT-II (MT-I/II) isoforms were measured together with Western blotting, copper
level, and lipid peroxides amounts increased in an age-dependent manner in the
spinal cord, the region responsible for motor paralysis. A significant increase was
already seen as early as 8-week-old SOD1 Tg mice, at which time the mice had not
yet exhibited motor paralysis, and showed a further increase at 16 weeks of age,
when paralysis was evident. Inversely, the spinal zinc level had significantly
decreased at both 8 and 16 weeks of age. The third isoform, the MT-III level,
remained at the same level as an 8-week-old wild-type mouse, finally increasing
to a significant level at 16 weeks of age. It has been believed that a mutant SOD1
protein, encoded by a mutant SOD1, gains a novel cytotoxic function while
maintaining its original enzymatic activity, and causes motor neuron death
(gain-of-toxic function). Copper-mediated oxidative stress seems to be a probable
underlying pathogenesis of gain-of-toxic function. Taking the above current
concepts and the classic functions of MT into account, MTs could have a disease
modifying property: the MT-I/II isoform for attenuating the gain-of-toxic function
at the early stage of the disease, and the MT-III isoform at an advanced stage.

Prion protein expression level alters regional copper, iron and zinc content in
the mouse brain
MJ Pushie,  IJ Pickering, GR Martin, S Tsutsui, FR Jirik and GN George
Metallomics, 2011,3, 206-214 http://dx.doi.org:/10.1039/C0MT00037J

The central role of the prion protein (PrP) in a family of fatal neurodegenerate
diseases has garnered considerable research interest over the past two decades.
Moreover, the role of PrP in neuronal development, as well as its apparent role
in metal homeostasis, is increasingly of interest. The host-encoded form of the
prion protein (PrPC) binds multiple copper atoms via its N-terminal domain
and can influence brain copper and iron levels. The importance of PrPC to the
regulation of brain metal homeostasis and metal distribution, however, is not
fully understood. We therefore employed synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence
imaging to map the level and distributions of several key metals in the brains of
mice that express different levels of PrPC. Brain sections from wild-type, prion
gene knockout (Prnp−/−) and PrPC over-expressing mice revealed striking
variation in the levels of iron, copper, and even zinc in specific brain regions as
a function of PrPC expression. Our results indicate that one important function
of PrPC may be to regulate the amount and distribution of specific metals within
the central nervous system. This raises the possibility that PrPC levels, or its
activity, might regulate the progression of diseases in which altered metal
homeostasis is thought to play a pathogenic role such as Alzheimer’s,
Parkinson’s and Wilson’s diseases and disorders such as hemochromatosis.

Zinc & Copper Imbalances: Immense Biochemical Implications
Mar 27, 2013 by Michael McEvoy
http://metabolichealing.com/zinc-copper-imbalances-immense-biochemical-
implications/

The status of zinc and copper levels may have profound implications for
many people. Much has been written about the significance of these two
trace elements for many, many years. Many health conditions may be
directly caused by abnormal zinc and copper levels.

With all of the recent attention given to methylation status, gene mutations,
MTHFR, and the associated neurological and mental/behavioral disorders
that may ensue, zinc and copper status remains a pivotal ratio in these regards.

While zinc toxicity and copper deficiency are possible, the subject of this
article is on the more common imbalance: copper toxicity and zinc deficiency.

The Physiological Roles Of Zinc & Copper

Zinc and copper are antagonists. The balance between these two trace
elements is an example of the effects of biological dualism. While zinc
toxicity is possible, far more common is zinc deficiency and copper toxicity.
Both zinc and copper play essential roles in the body, and there can be a
number of causes for why imbalances ensue.

It may be easier to identify the roles that zinc doesn’t play in the body,
than the roles it does play. Zinc is an essential trace element that activates
several hundred enzymatic reactions. These reactions are fundamental
to life and biological activity. Some of the activities that zinc are involved in:

  • DNA & RNA synthesis
  • Gene expression
  • Nervous system function
  • Immune function & immune signaling such as cell
    apoptosis
  • Neuronal transmission
  • Brain function
  • Zinc possesses powerful anabolic activities in the cells
  • Formation of zinc proteins known as “zinc fingers”
  • Zinc is essential for blood clotting and platelet formation
  • Zinc is involved in Vitamin A synthesis
  • Folate is made available through zinc enzyme reactions
  • Along with copper, Zinc makes up the antioxidant
    enzyme
    system, ZnCu superoxide dismutase
  • Steroidal hormone synthesis
  • Growth & development of children
  • Testosterone and semen formation
  • The highest concentration of zinc is found in the
    male prostate gland

Copper is an essential trace element serving many important functions
as well. However, copper is well documented to induce several toxic effects
in the body, when elevated. Because copper is a pro-oxidant when free and
unbound, it can quickly generate free radicals.

The major sources for copper toxicity are: exposure to industrial forms
of copper such as copper pipes, copper cookware, birth control, exposure
to copper-based fungicides. Diets high in copper and low in zinc may play
a role in copper toxicity. Pyrrole disorder, which causes depletion of zinc,
may result in elevated levels of copper.

Some of the essential roles copper plays in the body:

  • Connective tissue formation
  • ATP synthesis
  • Iron metabolism
  • Brain health via neurotransmitter synthesis
  • Gene transcription
  • Synthesis of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Nerve tissue: myelin sheath formation
  • Copper tends to rise when estrogen is dominant

Perhaps one of the first reports that zinc and copper imbalances play
a role in human health and disease was their detection in mental
disorders made by Carl Pfeiffer, MD, PhD. Dr. Pfeiffer identified a
condition known as pyrrole disorder, sometimes referred to as
pyrroluria or “mauve factor”.

As it turns out, pyrrole disorder is a major biochemical imbalance
in many people with chronic illnesses such as chronic Lyme disease,
autism, schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar, and chronic fatigue
syndrome. Pyrroles are a byproduct of hemoglobin synthesis.
Apparently, some individuals are more predisposed towards producing
higher amounts of pyrroles. When pyrroles are excessive, they irreversibly
bind to zinc and vitamin B6, causing their excretion. Consequently,
it is common that once zinc levels become depleted, copper levels tend to rise.

Copper Toxicity

Problems associated with copper toxicity include: pyrrole disorder,
estrogen dominance, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorder,
chronic fatigue, migraines, liver toxicity, thyroid conditions, chronic
candida yeast infections, PMS, to name a few. Some research has
even implicated copper toxicity with Alzheimer’s Disease and with
cardiovascular disease. Perhaps one of the primary mechanisms
through which copper toxicity can damage tissues is through its
initiation of oxidative stress and free radical formation. Free copper
ions that are not bound to copper proteins such as ceruloplasmin,
are pro-oxidants, and are highly reactive.

Empirical research from clinicians, indicates that there are different
types of copper imbalances. For example, if there is a lot of free,
unbound copper present, this may cause a situation of nutritive
copper deficiency. Another copper imbalance is when high pyrroles
depress zinc levels, and copper levels concomintantly rise. If high
pyrroles are present, B6 will also be lost in high amounts. In a general
but very real sense, all forms of copper excess will affect zinc status,
due to the dualistic nature of zinc and copper.

Copper & Estrogen

It has been known for many years that copper can cause a rise in
estrogen, and conversely estrogen may raise copper. Estrogen
dominance has been extensively studied in its role in breast
cancer development. One possible, critical role that can cause
estrogen to become carcinogenic, is through its oxidation induced by
copper. 
Once oxidized, estrogen forms volatile hydroxyl radicals and
the associated DNA damage and “mutagenesis”.

Zinc Deficiency

As mentioned previously, pyrrole disorder will directly depress
zinc status, causing high levels of its excretion. When zinc is
lost, copper rises. Because of their essential roles in neuro-
transmitter synthesis, low zinc and high copper levels can
directly effect cognition, behavior and thought processes.
Zinc has been studied in biochemical reactions involving
calcium-driven, synaptic neurotransmission, as well as in
glutamate/GABA balance and with limbic brain function.

Zinc & Reproduction

Zinc is essential for steroidal hormone synthesis, and is a
well known catalyst for testosterone synthesis, as well as
leutinizing hormone. Zinc has demonstrated its ability to
prevent miscarriage and toxicity during pregnancy. The male
prostate gland reportedly contains the highest concentration
of zinc in the body.

Zinc & Brain Function

Much attention has been given to excitotoxicity, such as the
effects induced by MSG (monosodium glutamtate). Excess
stimulation of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate,
may cause severe physical and psychological reactions in
certain individuals. Zinc has been studied for its ability to
enhance GABA 
(glutamate’s antagonistic neurotransmitter)
activity and to suppress excess glutamate.

Studies on mice demonstrated that when depleted of zinc
for two weeks, the mice developed seizures, most likely due
to GABA deficiencies and glutamate excess.

There is an emerging body of evidence that demonstrates
that Alzheimer’s disease may involve copper toxicity and
zinc deficiency. Not only can excess copper cause zinc
depletion, but so can excess lead.

The hippocampus, a major part of the limbic brain, records
memories and is responsible for processing meaningful
experiences. Numerous studies site that if hippocampal
cells are deprived of zinc, the hippocampal cells die. In
addition to hippocampus cell death induced by zinc
deprivation, the amygdala, the other major limbic gland
experiences cell death as well, when deprived of zinc.

Green Fluorescent Protein

Chalfie M, Tu Y, Euskirchen G, Ward WW, Prasher DC.
Science. 1994 Feb 11;263(5148):802-5.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8303295

A complementary DNA for the Aequorea victoria green fluorescent protein (GFP)
produces a fluorescent product when expressed in prokaryotic (Escherichia coli)
or eukaryotic (Caenorhabditis elegans) cells. Because exogenous substrates and
cofactors are not required for this fluorescence, GFP expression can be used
to monitor gene expression and protein localization in living organisms.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_fluorescent_protein

The green fluorescent protein (GFP) is a protein composed of 238 amino acid
residues (26.9 kDa) that exhibits bright green fluorescence when exposed
to light in the blue to ultraviolet range. Although many other marine organisms
have similar green fluorescent proteins, GFP traditionally refers to the protein
first isolated from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. The GFP from A. victoria
has a major excitation peak at a wavelength of 395 nm and a minor one at
475 nm. Its emission peak is at 509 nm, which is in the lower green portion
of the visible spectrum. The fluorescence quantum yield (QY) of GFP is 0.79.
The GFP from the sea pansy (Renilla reniformis) has a single major excitation
peak at 498 nm.

In cell and molecular biology, the GFP gene is frequently used as a reporter of
expression. In modified forms it has been used to make biosensors, and many
animals have been created that express GFP as a proof-of-concept that a gene
can be expressed throughout a given organism. The GFP gene can be introduced
into organisms and maintained in their genome through breeding, injection with a
viral vector, or cell transformation. To date, the GFP gene has been introduced
and expressed in many Bacteria, Yeast and other Fungi, fish (such as zebrafish),
plant, fly, and mammalian cells, including human. Martin Chalfie, Osamu Shimomura,
and Roger Y. Tsien were awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on 10 October
2008 for their discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein.

http://www.conncoll.edu/ccacad/zimmer/GFP-ww/GFP-1.htm

In Aequorea victoria a protein called aequorin releases blue light upon binding
with calcium. This blue light is then totally absorbed by the GFP, which in turn
gives off the green light as in the animation below.

In 1994 GFP was cloned. Now GFP is found in laboratories all over the world where
it is used in every conceivable plant and animal. Flatworms, algae, E. coli and pigs
have all been made to fluoresce with GFP.

The importance of GFP was recognized in 2008 when the Nobel Committee awarded
Osamu Shimomura, Marty Chalfie and Roger Tsien the Chemistry Nobel Prize ”
for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.”

Why is it so popular? Well, I like to think of GFP as the microscope of the twenty-
first century. Using GFP we can see when proteins are made, and where they can go.
This is done by joining the GFP gene to the gene of the protein of interest so that
when the protein is made it will have GFP hanging off it. Since GFP fluoresces, one
can shine light at the cell and wait for the distinctive green fluorescence associated
with GFP to appear.

A variant of yellow fluorescent protein with fast and efficient maturation for
cell-biological applications
T Nagai, K Ibata, E Sun Park, M Kubota, K Mikoshiba & A Miyawaki
Nature Biotechnology 20, 87 – 90 (2002)  http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/nbt0102-87

The green fluorescent protein (GFP) from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria
has provided a myriad of applications for biological systems. Over the last
several years, mutagenesis studies have improved folding properties of GFP.
However, slow maturation is still a big obstacle to the use of GFP variants for
visualization. These problems are exacerbated when GFP variants are expressed
at 37°C and/or targeted to certain organelles. Thus, obtaining GFP variants that
mature more efficiently is crucial for the development of expanded research
applications. Among Aequorea GFP variants, yellow fluorescent proteins (YFPs)
are relatively acid-sensitive,and uniquely quenched by chloride ion (Cl−)3. For
YFP to be fully and stably fluorescent, mutations that decrease the sensitivity
to both pH and Cl− are desired. Here we describe the development of an
improved version of YFP named “Venus”. Venus contains a novel mutation,
F46L, which at 37°C greatly accelerates oxidation of the chromophore, the rate-
limiting step of maturation. As a result of other mutations, F64L/M153T/
V163A/S175G, Venus folds well and is relatively tolerant of exposure
to acidosis and Cl−. We succeeded in efficiently targeting a neuropeptide
Y-Venus fusion protein to the dense-core granules of PC12 cells. Its secretion
was readily monitored by measuring release of fluorescence into the medium.
The use of Venus as an acceptor allowed early detection of reliable signals of
fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) for Ca2+ measurements in brain
slices. With the improved speed and efficiency of maturation and the increased
resistance to environment, Venus will enable fluorescent labelings that were not
possible before.

Rhodopsin-like Protein from the Purple Membrane of Halobacterium halobium
DIETER OESTERHELT &  WALTHER STOECKENIUS
Nature New Biology 29 Sep 1971; 233, 149-152  | http://dx.doi.org:/10.1038/
newbio233149a0

HALOPHILIC bacteria require high concentrations of sodium chloride and lower
concentrations of KCl and MgCl2 for growth. The cell membrane dissociates into
fragments of varying size when the salt is removed1. One characteristic fragment—
termed the “purple membrane” because of its characteristic deep purple colour—
has been isolated in relatively pure form from Halobacterium halobium. We can
now show that the purple colour is due to retinal bound to an opsin-like protein,
the only protein present in this membrane fragment.

References

Stoeckenius, W. , and Rowen, R. , J. Cell Biol., 34, 365 (1967).

Stoeckenius, W. , and Kunau, W. H. , J. Cell Biol., 38, 337 (1968).

Blaurock, A. E. , and Stoeckenius, W. , Nature New Biology, 233, 152 (1971).

Sehgal, S. N. , and Gibbons, N. E. , Canad. J. Microbiol., 6, 165 (1960).

Kelly, M. , Norgård, S. , and Liaach-Jensen, S. , Acta Chem. Scand., 2A, 2169 (1970).

Shapiro, A. L. , Vinnela, E. , and Maizel, jun., J. V. , Biochem. Biophys. Res.
Commun., 28, 815 (1967).

The monomerization of the Purple protein, a member of the GFP-family
Corning, Brooke

Green fluorescent protein (GFP) has been used extensively since its discovery
in the 1960s to report and visualize gene expression. For years it has been the only
known naturally occurring fluorescent pigment that is encoded by a single gene,
making it extremely useful in various fields of biology, because the expression of
this gene directly leads to the appearance of the fluorescent green color. Recently,
however, many more proteins with similar properties to GFP, and available in a
variety of colors, have been isolated from the class of marine organisms called
Anthozoa, which includes the corals. This increase in the availability of colored
proteins in GFP family in turn has expanded the number of available biotech-
nology applications. However, some of these newly discovered GFP-like
proteins do not have wild-type forms that readily allow for the creation of
fusion proteins, particularly because of oligomerization. It is widely accepted
that almost all members of the GFP-family form dimers or tetramers in their
functional forms.

This study investigates a GFP-ike protein, Purple, isolated from two species,
Galaxea fascicularis and Montipora efflorescens. Purple protein forms oligomers
when expressed, which would then interfere with the normal expression of a  protein
to be tagged in gene fusion experiments. We selectively mutated 3 amino acids,
which we believed were responsible for oligomerization in Purple. These 3
residues were chosen based on sequence similarities to a very similar protein,
a mutant form of the Rtms5 chromoprotein from Montipora efflorescens. While
we had hoped that the resulting triple-mutant Purple protein would form
monomers in vivo while retaining its purple coloration, this turned out to
be incorrect. The resulting mutants had lost their ability to turn purple. However,
we also determined that we had successfully changed the oligomerization
state of Purple by examining the relative molecular mass of one our
mutant proteins, which turned out to be half the size of the original
purple protein. It is possible that by adding additional mutations in
the future, the original spectral properties could be recovered. If
successful, this would further expand the utility of the GFP family.

Rhodopsin, also known as visual purple, from Ancient Greek ῥόδον
(rhódon, “rose”), due to its pinkish color, and ὄψις (ópsis, “sight”), is
a light-sensitive receptor protein. It is a biological pigment in photo-
receptor cells of the retina. Rhodopsin is the primary pigment found
in rod photoreceptors. Rhodopsins belong to the G-protein-coupled
receptor (GPCR) family. They are extremely sensitive to light, enabling
vision in low-light conditions. Exposed to light, the pigment
immediately photobleaches, and it takes about 45 minutes to regenerate
fully in humans. Its discovery was reported by German physiologist
Franz Christian Boll in 1876.

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Summary of Proteomics

Author and Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP 

 

We have completed a series of discussions on proteomics, a scientific endeavor that is essentially 15 years old.   It is quite remarkable what has been accomplished in that time.  The interest is abetted by the understanding of the limitations of the genomic venture that has preceded it.  The thorough, yet incomplete knowledge of the genome, has led to the clarification of its limits.  It is the coding for all that lives, but all that lives has evolved to meet a demanding and changing environment with respect to

  1. availability of nutrients
  2. salinity
  3. temperature
  4. radiation exposure
  5. toxicities in the air, water, and food
  6. stresses – both internal and external

We have seen how both transcription and translation of the code results in a protein, lipoprotein, or other complex than the initial transcript that was modeled from tRNA. What you see in the DNA is not what you get in the functioning cell, organ, or organism.  There are comparabilities as well as significant differences between plants, prokaryotes, and eukaryotes.  There is extensive variation.  The variation goes beyond genomic expression, and includes the functioning cell, organ type, and species.

Here, I return to the introductory discussion.  Proteomics is a goal directed, sophisticated science that uses a combination of methods to find the answers to biological questions. Graves PR and Haystead TAJ.  Molecular Biologist’s Guide to Proteomics.
Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. Mar 2002; 66(1): 39–63.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC120780/

Peptide mass tag searching

Peptide mass tag searching

Peptide mass tag searching. Shown is a schematic of how information from an unknown peptide (top) is matched to a peptide sequence in a database (bottom) for protein identification. The partial amino acid sequence or “tag” obtained by MS/MS is combined with the peptide mass (parent mass), the mass of the peptide at the start of the sequence (mass tag 1), and the mass of the peptide at the end of the sequence (mass tag 2). The specificity of the protease used (trypsin is shown) can also be included in the search.

ICAT method for measuring differential protein expression

ICAT method for measuring differential protein expression

The ICAT method for measuring differential protein expression. (A) Structure of the ICAT reagent. ICAT consists of a biotin affinity group, a linker region that can incorporate heavy (deuterium) or light (hydrogen) atoms, and a thiol-reactive end group for linkage to cysteines. (B) ICAT strategy. Proteins are harvested from two different cell states and labeled on cysteine residues with either the light or heavy form of the ICAT reagent. Following labeling, the two protein samples are mixed and digested with a protease such as trypsin. Peptides labeled with the ICAT reagent can be purified by virtue of the biotin tag by using avidin chromatography. Following purification, ICAT-labeled peptides can be analyzed by MS to quantitate the peak ratios and proteins can be identified by sequencing the peptides with MS/MS.

Strategies for determination of phosphorylation sites in proteins

Strategies for determination of phosphorylation sites in proteins

Strategies for determination of phosphorylation sites in proteins. Proteins phosphorylated in vitro or in vivo can be isolated by protein electrophoresis and analyzed by MS. (A) Identification of phosphopeptides by peptide mass fingerprinting. In this method, phosphopeptides are identified by comparing the mass spectrum of an untreated sample to that of a sample treated with phosphatase. In the phosphatase-treated sample, potential phosphopeptides are identified by a decrease in mass due to loss of a phosphate group (80 Da). (B) Phosphorylation sites can be identified by peptide sequencing using MS/MS. (C) Edman degradation can be used to monitor the release of inorganic 32P to provide information about phosphorylation sites in peptides.

protein mining strategy

protein mining strategy

Proteome-mining strategy. Proteins are isolated on affinity column arrays from a cell line, organ, or animal source and purified to remove nonspecific adherents. Then, compound libraries are passed over the array and the proteins eluted are analyzed by protein electrophoresis. Protein information obtained by MS or Edman degradation is then used to search DNA and protein databases. If a relevant target is identified, a sublibrary of compounds can be evaluated to refine the lead. From this method a protein target and a drug lead can be simultaneously identified.

Although the technology for the analysis of proteins is rapidly progressing, it is still not feasible to study proteins on a scale equivalent to that of the nucleic acids. Most of proteomics relies on methods, such as protein purification or PAGE, that are not high-throughput methods. Even performing MS can require considerable time in either data acquisition or analysis. Although hundreds of proteins can be analyzed quickly and in an automated fashion by a MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer, the quality of data is sacrificed and many proteins cannot be identified. Much higher quality data can be obtained for protein identification by MS/MS, but this method requires considerable time in data interpretation. In our opinion, new computer algorithms are needed to allow more accurate interpretation of mass spectra without operator intervention. In addition, to access unannotated DNA databases across species, these algorithms should be error tolerant to allow for sequencing errors, polymorphisms, and conservative substitutions. New technologies will have to emerge before protein analysis on a large-scale (such as mapping the human proteome) becomes a reality.

Another major challenge for proteomics is the study of low-abundance proteins. In some eukaryotic cells, the amounts of the most abundant proteins can be 106-fold greater than those of the low-abundance proteins. Many important classes of proteins (that may be important drug targets) such as transcription factors, protein kinases, and regulatory proteins are low-copy proteins. These low-copy proteins will not be observed in the analysis of crude cell lysates without some purification. Therefore, new methods must be devised for subproteome isolation.

Tissue Proteomics for the Next Decade?  Towards a Molecular Dimension in Histology

R Longuespe´e, M Fle´ron, C Pottier, F Quesada-Calvo, Marie-Alice Meuwis, et al.
OMICS A Journal of Integrative Biology 2014; 18: 9.    http://dx.doi.org:/10.1089/omi.2014.0033

The concept of tissues appeared more than 200 years ago, since textures and attendant differences were described within the whole organism components. Instrumental developments in optics and biochemistry subsequently paved the way to transition from classical to molecular histology in order to decipher the molecular contexts associated with physiological or pathological development or function of a tissue. In 1941, Coons and colleagues performed the first systematic integrated examination of classical histology and biochemistry when his team localized pneumonia antigens in infected tissue sections. Most recently, in the early 21st century, mass spectrometry (MS) has progressively become one of the most valuable tools to analyze biomolecular compounds. Currently, sampling methods, biochemical procedures, and MS instrumentations
allow scientists to perform ‘‘in depth’’ analysis of the protein content of any type of tissue of interest. This article reviews the salient issues in proteomics analysis of tissues. We first outline technical and analytical considerations for sampling and biochemical processing of tissues and subsequently the instrumental possibilities for proteomics analysis such as shotgun proteomics in an anatomical context. Specific attention concerns formalin fixed and paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissues that are potential ‘‘gold mines’’ for histopathological investigations. In all, the matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) MS imaging, which allows for differential mapping of hundreds of compounds on a tissue section, is currently the most striking evidence of linkage and transition between ‘‘classical’’ and ‘‘molecular’’ histology. Tissue proteomics represents a veritable field of research and investment activity for modern biomarker discovery and development for the next decade.

Progressively, tissue analyses evolved towards the description of the whole molecular content of a given sample. Currently, mass spectrometry (MS) is the most versatile
analytical tool for protein identification and has proven its great potential for biological and clinical applications. ‘‘Omics’’ fields, and especially proteomics, are of particular
interest since they allow the analysis of a biomolecular picture associated with a given physiological or pathological state. Biochemical techniques were then adapted for an optimal extraction of several biocompounds classes from tissues of different natures.

Laser capture microdissection (LCM) is used to select and isolate tissue areas of interest for further analysis. The developments of MS instrumentations have then definitively transformed the scientific scene, pushing back more and more detection and identification limits. Since a few decades, new approaches of analyses appeared, involving the use of tissue sections dropped on glass slides as starting material. Two types of analyses can then be applied on tissue sections: shotgun proteomics and the very promising MS imaging (MSI) using Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization (MALDI) sources. Also known as ‘‘molecular histology,’’ MSI is the most striking hyphen between histology and molecular analysis. In practice, this method allows visualization of the spatial distribution of proteins, peptides, drugs, or others analytes directly on tissue sections. This technique paved new ways of research, especially in the field of histopathology, since this approach appeared to be complementary to conventional histology.

Tissue processing workflows for molecular analyses

Tissue processing workflows for molecular analyses

Tissue processing workflows for molecular analyses. Tissues can either be processed in solution or directly on tissue sections. In solution, processing involves protein
extraction from tissue pieces in order to perform 2D gel separation and identification of proteins, shotgun proteomics, or MALDI analyses. Extracts can also be obtained from
tissues area selection and protein extraction after laser micro dissection or on-tissue processing. Imaging techniques are dedicated to the morphological characterization or molecular mapping of tissue sections. Histology can either be conducted by hematoxylin/eosin staining or by molecular mapping using antibodies with IHC. Finally, mass spectrometry imaging allows the cartography of numerous compounds in a single analysis. This approach is a modern form of ‘‘molecular histology’’ as it grafts, with the use of mathematical calculations, a molecular dimension to classical histology. (AR, antigen retrieval; FFPE, formalin fixed and paraffin embedded; fr/fr, fresh frozen; IHC, immunohistochemistry; LCM, laser capture microdissection; MALDI, matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization; MSI, mass spectrometry imaging; PTM, post translational modification.)

Analysis of tissue proteomes has greatly evolved with separation methods and mass spectrometry instrumentation. The choice of the workflow strongly depends on whether a bottom-up or a top-down analysis has to be performed downstream. In-gel or off-gel proteomics principally differentiates proteomic workflows. The almost simultaneous discoveries of the MS ionization sources (Nobel Prize awarded) MALDI (Hillenkamp and Karas, 1990; Tanaka et al., 1988) and electrospray ionization (ESI) (Fenn et al., 1989) have paved the way for analysis of intact proteins and peptides. Separation methods such as two-dimension electrophoresis (2DE) (Fey and Larsen, 2001) and nanoscale reverse phase liquid chromatography (nanoRP-LC) (Deterding et al., 1991) lead to efficient preparation of proteins for respectively topdown and bottom-up strategies. A huge panel of developments was then achieved mostly for LC-MS based proteomics in order to improve ion fragmentation approaches and peptide
identification throughput relying on database interrogation. Moreover, approaches were developed to analyze post translational modifications (PTM) such as phosphorylations (Ficarro et al., 2002; Oda et al., 2001; Zhou et al., 2001) or glycosylations (Zhang et al., 2003), proposing as well different quantification procedures. Regarding instrumentation, the most cutting edge improvements are the gain of mass accuracy for an optimal detection of the eluted peptides during LC-MS runs (Mann and Kelleher, 2008; Michalski et al., 2011) and the increase in scanning speed, for example with the use of Orbitrap analyzers (Hardman and Makarov, 2003; Makarov et al., 2006; Makarov et al., 2009; Olsen et al., 2009). Ion transfer efficiency was also drastically improved with the conception of ion funnels that homogenize the ion transmission
capacities through m/z ranges (Kelly et al., 2010; Kim et al., 2000; Page et al., 2006; Shaffer et al., 1998) or by performing electrospray ionization within low vacuum (Marginean et al., 2010; Page et al., 2008; Tang et al., 2011). Beside collision induced dissociation (CID) that is proposed for many applications (Li et al., 2009; Wells and McLuckey, 2005), new fragmentation methods were investigated, such as higher-energy collisional dissociation (HCD) especially for phosphoproteomic
applications (Nagaraj et al., 2010), and electron transfer dissociation (ETD) and electron capture dissociation (ECD) that are suited for phospho- and glycoproteomics (An
et al., 2009; Boersema et al., 2009; Wiesner et al., 2008). Methods for data-independent MS2 analysis based on peptide fragmentation in given m/z windows without precursor selection neither information knowledge, also improves identification throughput (Panchaud et al., 2009; Venable et al., 2004), especially with the use of MS instruments with high resolution and high mass accuracy specifications (Panchaud et al., 2011). Gas fractionation methods such as ion mobility (IM) can also be used as a supplementary separation dimension which enable more efficient peptide identifications (Masselon et al., 2000; Shvartsburg et al., 2013; Shvartsburg et al., 2011).

Microdissection relies on a laser ablation principle. The tissue section is dropped on a plastic membrane covering a glass slide. The preparation is then placed into a microscope
equipped with a laser. A highly focused beam will then be guided by the user at the external limit of the area of interest. This area composed by the plastic membrane, and the tissue section will then be ejected from the glass slide and collected into a tube cap for further processing. This mode of microdissection is the most widely used due to its ease of handling and the large panels of devices proposed by constructors. Indeed, Leica microsystem proposed the Leica LMD system (Kolble, 2000), Molecular Machine and Industries, the MMI laser microdissection system Microcut, which was used in combination with IHC (Buckanovich et al., 2006), Applied Biosystems developed the Arcturus
microdissection System, and Carl Zeiss patented P.A.L.M. MicroBeam technology (Braakman et al., 2011; Espina et al., 2006a; Espina et al., 2006b; Liu et al., 2012; Micke
et al., 2005). LCM represents a very adequate link between classical histology and sampling methods for molecular analyses as it is a simple customized microscope. Indeed,
optical lenses of different magnification can be used and the method is compatible with classical IHC (Buckanovich et al., 2006). Only the laser and the tube holder need to be
added to the instrumentation.

After microdissection, the tissue pieces can be processed for analyses using different available MS devices and strategies. The simplest one consists in the direct analysis of the
protein profiles by MALDI-TOF-MS (MALDI-time of flight-MS). The microdissected tissues are dropped on a MALDI target and directly covered by the MALDI matrix (Palmer-Toy et al., 2000; Xu et al., 2002). This approach was already used in order to classify breast cancer tumor types (Sanders et al., 2008), identify intestinal neoplasia protein biomarkers (Xu et al., 2009), and to determine differential profiles in glomerulosclerosis (Xu et al., 2005).

Currently the most common proteomic approach for LCM tissue analysis is LC-MS/MS. Label free LC-MS approaches have been used to study several cancers like head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (Baker et al., 2005), esophageal cancer (Hatakeyama et al., 2006), dysplasic cervical cells (Gu et al., 2007), breast carcinoma tumors (Hill et al., 2011; Johann et al., 2009), tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells (Umar et al., 2009), ER + / – breast cancer cells (Rezaul et al., 2010), Barretts esophagus (Stingl et al., 2011), and ovarian endometrioid cancer (Alkhas et al., 2011). Different isotope labeling methods have been used in order to compare proteins expression. ICAT was first used to investigate proteomes of hepatocellular carcinoma (Li et al., 2004; 2008). The O16/O18 isotopic labeling was then used for proteomic analysis of ductal carcinoma of the breast (Zang et al., 2004).

Currently, the lowest amount of collected cells for a relevant single analysis using fr/fr breast cancer tissues was 3000–4000 (Braakman et al., 2012; Liu et al., 2012; Umar et al., 2007). With a Q-Exactive (Thermo, Waltham) mass spectrometer coupled to LC, Braakman was able to identify up to 1800 proteins from 4000 cells. Processing
of FFPE microdissected tissues of limited sizes still remains an issue which is being addressed by our team.

Among direct tissue analyses modes, two categories of investigations can be done. MALDI profiling consists in the study of molecular localization of compounds and can be
combined with parallel shotgun proteomic methods. Imaging methods give less detailed molecular information, but is more focused on the accurate mapping of the detected compounds through tissue area. In 2007, a concept of direct tissue proteomics (DTP) was proposed for high-throughput examination of tissue microarray samples. However, contrary to the classical workflow, tissue section chemical treatment involved a first step of scrapping each FFPE tissue spot with a razor blade from the glass slide. The tissues were then transferred into a tube and processed with RIPA buffer and finally submitted to boiling as an AR step (Hwang et al., 2007). Afterward, several teams proved that it was possible to perform the AR directly on tissue sections. These applications were mainly dedicated to MALDI imaging analyses (Bonnel et al., 2011; Casadonte and Caprioli, 2011; Gustafsson et al., 2010). However, more recently, Longuespe´e used citric acid antigen retrieval (CAAR) before shotgun proteomics associated to global profiling proteomics (Longuespee et al., 2013).

MALDI imaging workflow

MALDI imaging workflow

MALDI imaging workflow. For MALDI imaging experiments, tissue sections are dropped on conductive glass slides. Sample preparations are then adapted depending on the nature of the tissue sample (FFPE or fr/fr). Then, matrix is uniformly deposited on the tissue section using dedicated devices. A laser beam subsequently irradiates the preparation following a given step length and a MALDI spectrum is acquired for each position. Using adapted software, the different detected ions are then mapped through the tissue section, in function of their differential intensities. The ‘‘molecular maps’’ are called images. (FFPE, formalin fixed and paraffin embedded; fr/fr, fresh frozen; MALDI, matrix assisted laser desorption ionization.)

Proteomics instrumentations, specific biochemical preparations, and sampling methods such as LCM altogether allow for the deep exploration and comparison of different proteomes between regions of interest in tissues with up to 104 detected proteins. MALDI MS imaging that allows for differential mapping of hundreds of compounds on a tissue section is currently the most striking illustration of association between ‘‘classical’’ and ‘‘molecular’’ histology.

Novel serum protein biomarker panel revealed by mass spectrometry and its prognostic value in breast cancer

L Chung, K Moore, L Phillips, FM Boyle, DJ Marsh and RC Baxter*  Breast Cancer Research 2014, 16:R63
http://breast-cancer-research.com/content/16/3/R63

Introduction: Serum profiling using proteomic techniques has great potential to detect biomarkers that might improve diagnosis and predict outcome for breast cancer patients (BC). This study used surface-enhanced laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight (SELDI-TOF) mass spectrometry (MS) to identify differentially expressed proteins in sera from BC and healthy volunteers (HV), with the goal of developing a new prognostic biomarker panel.
Methods: Training set serum samples from 99 BC and 51 HV subjects were applied to four adsorptive chip surfaces (anion-exchange, cation-exchange, hydrophobic, and metal affinity) and analyzed by time-of-flight MS. For validation, 100 independent BC serum samples and 70 HV samples were analyzed similarly. Cluster analysis of protein spectra was performed to identify protein patterns related to BC and HV groups. Univariate and multivariate statistical analyses were used to develop a protein panel to distinguish breast cancer sera from healthy sera, and its prognostic potential was evaluated.
Results: From 51 protein peaks that were significantly up- or downregulated in BC patients by univariate analysis, binary logistic regression yielded five protein peaks that together classified BC and HV with a receiver operating characteristic (ROC) area-under-the-curve value of 0.961. Validation on an independent patient cohort confirmed
the five-protein parameter (ROC value 0.939). The five-protein parameter showed positive association with large tumor size (P = 0.018) and lymph node involvement (P = 0.016). By matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) MS, immunoprecipitation and western blotting the proteins were identified as a fragment
of apolipoprotein H (ApoH), ApoCI, complement C3a, transthyretin, and ApoAI. Kaplan-Meier analysis on 181 subjects after median follow-up of >5 years demonstrated that the panel significantly predicted disease-free survival (P = 0.005), its efficacy apparently greater in women with estrogen receptor (ER)-negative tumors (n = 50, P = 0.003) compared to ER-positive (n = 131, P = 0.161), although the influence of ER status needs to be confirmed after longer follow-up.
Conclusions: Protein mass profiling by MS has revealed five serum proteins which, in combination, can distinguish between serum from women with breast cancer and healthy control subjects with high sensitivity and specificity. The five-protein panel significantly predicts recurrence-free survival in women with ER-negative tumors and may have value in the management of these patients.

Cellular prion protein is required for neuritogenesis: fine-tuning of multiple signaling pathways involved in focal adhesions and actin cytoskeleton dynamics

Aurélie Alleaume-Butaux, et al.   Cell Health and Cytoskeleton 2013:5 1–12

Neuritogenesis is a dynamic phenomenon associated with neuronal differentiation that allows a rather spherical neuronal stem cell to develop dendrites and axon, a prerequisite for the integration and transmission of signals. The acquisition of neuronal polarity occurs in three steps:

(1) neurite sprouting, which consists of the formation of buds emerging from the postmitotic neuronal soma;

(2) neurite outgrowth, which represents the conversion of buds into neurites, their elongation and evolution into axon or dendrites; and

(3) the stability and plasticity of neuronal polarity.

In neuronal stem cells, remodeling and activation of focal adhesions (FAs)

  • associated with deep modifications of the actin cytoskeleton is
  • a prerequisite for neurite sprouting and subsequent neurite outgrowth.

A multiple set of growth factors and interactors located in

  • the extracellular matrix and the plasma membrane orchestrate neuritogenesis
  • by acting on intracellular signaling effectors, notably small G proteins such as RhoA, Rac, and Cdc42,
  • which are involved in actin turnover and the dynamics of FAs.

The cellular prion protein (PrPC), a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored membrane protein

  • mainly known for its role in a group of fatal neurodegenerative diseases,
  • has emerged as a central player in neuritogenesis.

Here, we review the contribution of PrPC to neuronal polarization and

  • detail the current knowledge on the signaling pathways fine-tuned
  • by PrPC to promote neurite sprouting, outgrowth, and maintenance.

We emphasize that PrPC-dependent neurite sprouting is a process in which

  • PrPC governs the dynamics of FAs and the actin cytoskeleton via β1 integrin signaling.

The presence of PrPC is necessary to render neuronal stem cells

  • competent to respond to neuronal inducers and to develop neurites.

In differentiating neurons, PrPC exerts a facilitator role towards neurite elongation.

This function relies on the interaction of PrPC with a set of diverse partners such as

  1. elements of the extracellular matrix,
  2. plasma membrane receptors,
  3. adhesion molecules, and
  4. soluble factors that control actin cytoskeleton turnover
  • through Rho-GTPase signaling.

Once neurons have reached their terminal stage of differentiation and

  • acquired their polarized morphology,
  • PrPC also takes part in the maintenance of neurites.

By acting on tissue nonspecific alkaline phosphatase, or matrix metalloproteinase type 9,

  • PrPC stabilizes interactions between neurites and the extracellular matrix.

Fusion-pore expansion during syncytium formation is restricted by an actin network

Andrew Chen et al., Journal of Cell Science 121, 3619-3628. http://dx.doi.org:/10.1242/jcs.032169

Cell-cell fusion in animal development and in pathophysiology

  • involves expansion of nascent fusion pores formed by protein fusogens
  • to yield an open lumen of cell-size diameter.

Here we explored the enlargement of micron-scale pores in syncytium formation,

  • which was initiated by a well-characterized fusogen baculovirus gp64.

Radial expansion of a single or, more often, of multiple fusion pores

  • proceeds without loss of membrane material in the tight contact zone.

Pore growth requires cell metabolism and is

  • accompanied by a local disassembly of the actin cortex under the pores.

Effects of actin-modifying agents indicate that

  • the actin cortex slows down pore expansion.

We propose that the growth of the strongly bent fusion-pore rim

  1. is restricted by a dynamic resistance of the actin network and
  2. driven by membrane-bending proteins that are involved in
  3. the generation of highly curved intracellular membrane compartments.

Pak1 Is Required to Maintain Ventricular Ca2+ Homeostasis and Electrophysiological Stability Through SERCA2a Regulation in Mice

Yanwen Wang, et al.  Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2014;7:00-00.

Impaired sarcoplasmic reticular Ca2+ uptake resulting from

  • decreased sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase type 2a (SERCA2a) expression or activity
  • is a characteristic of heart failure with its associated ventricular arrhythmias.

Recent attempts at gene therapy of these conditions explored strategies

  • enhancing SERCA2a expression and the activity as novel approaches to heart failure management.

We here explore the role of Pak1 in maintaining ventricular Ca2+ homeostasis and electrophysiological stability

  • under both normal physiological and acute and chronic β-adrenergic stress conditions.

Methods and Results—Mice with a cardiomyocyte-specific Pak1 deletion (Pak1cko), but not controls (Pak1f/f), showed

  • high incidences of ventricular arrhythmias and electrophysiological instability
  • during either acute β-adrenergic or chronic β-adrenergic stress leading to hypertrophy,
  • induced by isoproterenol.

Isolated Pak1cko ventricular myocytes correspondingly showed

  • aberrant cellular Ca2+ homeostasis.

Pak1cko hearts showed an associated impairment of SERCA2a function and

  • downregulation of SERCA2a mRNA and protein expression.

Further explorations of the mechanisms underlying the altered transcriptional regulation

  • demonstrated that exposure to control Ad-shC2 virus infection
  • increased SERCA2a protein and mRNA levels after
  • phenylephrine stress in cultured neonatal rat cardiomyocytes.

This was abolished by the

  • Pak1-knockdown in Ad-shPak1–infected neonatal rat cardiomyocytes and
  • increased by constitutive overexpression of active Pak1 (Ad-CAPak1).

We then implicated activation of serum response factor, a transcriptional factor well known for

  • its vital role in the regulation of cardiogenesis genes in the Pak1-dependent regulation of SERCA2a.

Conclusions—These findings indicate that

Pak1 is required to maintain ventricular Ca2+ homeostasis and electrophysiological stability

  • and implicate Pak1 as a novel regulator of cardiac SERCA2a through
  • a transcriptional mechanism

fusion in animal development and in pathophysiology involves expansion of nascent fusion pores

  • formed by protein fusogens to yield an open lumen of cell-size diameter.

Here we explored the enlargement of micron-scale pores in syncytium formation,

  • which was initiated by a well-characterized fusogen baculovirus gp64.

Radial expansion of a single or, more often, of multiple fusion pores proceeds

  • without loss of membrane material in the tight contact zone.

Pore growth requires cell metabolism and is accompanied by

  • a local disassembly of the actin cortex under the pores.

Effects of actin-modifying agents indicate that the actin cortex slows down pore expansion.

We propose that the growth of the strongly bent fusion-pore rim is restricted

  • by a dynamic resistance of the actin network and driven by
  • membrane-bending proteins that are involved in the generation of
  • highly curved intracellular membrane compartments.

Role of forkhead box protein A3 in age-associated metabolic decline

Xinran Maa,1, Lingyan Xua,1, Oksana Gavrilovab, and Elisabetta Muellera,2
PNAS Sep 30, 2014 | 111 | 39 | 14289–14294  http://pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1407640111

Significance
This paper reports that the transcription factor forkhead box protein A3 (Foxa3) is

  • directly involved in the development of age-associated obesity and insulin resistance.

Mice that lack the Foxa3 gene

  1. remodel their fat tissues,
  2. store less fat, and
  3. burn more energy as they age.

These mice also live significantly longer.

We show that Foxa3 suppresses a key metabolic cofactor, PGC1α,

  • which is involved in the gene programs that turn on energy expenditure in adipose tissues.

Overall, these findings suggest that Foxa3 contributes to the increased adiposity observed during aging,

  • and that it can be a possible target for the treatment of metabolic disorders.

Aging is associated with increased adiposity and diminished thermogenesis, but

  • the critical transcription factors influencing these metabolic changes late in life are poorly understood.

We recently demonstrated that the winged helix factor forkhead box protein A3 (Foxa3)

  • regulates the expansion of visceral adipose tissue in high-fat diet regimens; however,
  • whether Foxa3 also contributes to the increase in adiposity and the decrease in brown fat activity
  • observed during the normal aging process is currently unknown.

Here we report that during aging, levels of Foxa3 are significantly and selectively

  • up-regulated in brown and inguinal white fat depots, and that
  • midage Foxa3-null mice have increased white fat browning and thermogenic capacity,
  1. decreased adipose tissue expansion,
  2. improved insulin sensitivity, and
  3. increased longevity.

Foxa3 gain-of-function and loss-of-function studies in inguinal adipose depots demonstrated

  • a cell-autonomous function for Foxa3 in white fat tissue browning.

The mechanisms of Foxa3 modulation of brown fat gene programs involve

  • the suppression of peroxisome proliferator activated receptor γ coactivtor 1 α (PGC1α) levels
  • through interference with cAMP responsive element binding protein 1-mediated
  • transcriptional regulation of the PGC1α promoter.

Our data demonstrate a role for Foxa3 in energy expenditure and in age-associated metabolic disorders.

Control of Mitochondrial pH by Uncoupling Protein 4 in Astrocytes Promotes Neuronal Survival

HP Lambert, M Zenger, G Azarias, Jean-Yves Chatton, PJ. Magistretti,§, S Lengacher
JBC (in press) M114.570879  http://www.jbc.org/cgi/doi/10.1074/jbc.M114.570879

Background: Role of uncoupling proteins (UCP) in the brain is unclear.
Results: UCP, present in astrocytes, mediate the intra-mitochondrial acidification leading to a decrease in mitochondrial ATP production.
Conclusion: Astrocyte pH regulation promotes ATP synthesis by glycolysis whose final product, lactate, increases neuronal survival.
Significance: We describe a new role for a brain uncoupling protein.

Brain activity is energetically costly and requires a steady and

  • highly regulated flow of energy equivalents between neural cells.

It is believed that a substantial share of cerebral glucose, the major source of energy of the brain,

  • will preferentially be metabolized in astrocytes via aerobic glycolysis.

The aim of this study was to evaluate whether uncoupling proteins (UCPs),

  • located in the inner membrane of mitochondria,
  • play a role in setting up the metabolic response pattern of astrocytes.

UCPs are believed to mediate the transmembrane transfer of protons

  • resulting in the uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation from ATP production.

UCPs are therefore potentially important regulators of energy fluxes. The main UCP isoforms

  • expressed in the brain are UCP2, UCP4, and UCP5.

We examined in particular the role of UCP4 in neuron-astrocyte metabolic coupling

  • and measured a range of functional metabolic parameters
  • including mitochondrial electrical potential and pH,
  1. reactive oxygen species production,
  2. NAD/NADH ratio,
  3. ATP/ADP ratio,
  4. CO2 and lactate production, and
  5. oxygen consumption rate (OCR).

In brief, we found that UCP4 regulates the intra-mitochondrial pH of astrocytes

  • which acidifies as a consequence of glutamate uptake,
  • with the main consequence of reducing efficiency of mitochondrial ATP production.
  • the diminished ATP production is effectively compensated by enhancement of glycolysis.
  • this non-oxidative production of energy is not associated with deleterious H2O2 production.

We show that astrocytes expressing more UCP4 produced more lactate,

  • used as energy source by neurons, and had the ability to enhance neuronal survival.

Jose Eduardo des Salles Roselino

The problem with genomics was it was set as explanation for everything. In fact, when something is genetic in nature the genomic reasoning works fine. However, this means whenever an inborn error is found and only in this case the genomic knowledge afterwards may indicate what is wrong and not the completely way to put biology upside down by reading everything in the DNA genetic as well as non-genetic problems.

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Metabolomics: its Applications in Food and Nutrition Research

Reporter and Curator: Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

Metabolomics is a relatively new field of “omics” research concerned with the high-throughput identification and quantification of small molecule (<1500 Da) metabolites in the metabolome. The metabolome is formally defined as the collection of all small molecule metabolites or chemicals that can be found in a cell, organ or organism. These small molecules can include a range of endogenous and exogenous chemical entities such as peptides, amino acids, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, organic acids, vitamins, polyphenols, alkaloids, minerals and just about any other chemical that can be used, ingested or synthesized by a given cell or organism.

Metabolomics is ideally positioned to be used in many areas of food science and nutrition research including food component analysis, food quality/authenticity assessment, food consumption monitoring and physiological monitoring in food intervention studies. However, the potential impact of metabolomics is still limited by two factors: (1) technology and (2) databases. In terms of instrumentation, it is clear that significant improvements need to be made to make metabolite detection and quantification technology more robust, automated and comprehensive. While promising advances have been made, current techniques are only capable of detecting perhaps 1/10th of the relevant metabolome. This expanded breadth and depth of coverage is particularly important in food and nutrition studies.

Many more reference spectral or chromatographic databases on metabolites, food components and phytochemicals need to be developed and made public. It is only through these databases that nutritionally relevant compounds can be routinely identified or quantified. Indeed a comprehensive effort, similar to that undertaken to annotate the human metabolome, needs to be made to complete and annotate the “food metabolome”. Similar efforts also need to be directed towards creating publicly accessible, comprehensive nutritional phenotype databases that include quantitative metabolomic (and other omic) data collected from diet-challenge or food intervention experiments. While these kinds of endeavours may take years to complete and cost millions of dollars, hopefully the food science community (and its funding agencies) will find a way of coordinating its activities to complete these efforts. Indeed, having public resource like a food metabolome database or a nutritional phenotype database could be as valuable to food scientists as GenBank has been to molecular biologists.

Source References:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924224408000770

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123945983000010

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092422440900226X

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1359644605036093

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780080885049000520

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123744135000051

Other articles related to this topic were published on this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

Ca2+ signaling: transcriptional control

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reporter, RN 03/06/2013

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/03/06/ca2-signaling-transcriptional-control/

Harnessing Personalized Medicine for Cancer Management, Prospects of Prevention and Cure: Opinions of Cancer Scientific Leaders @ http://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com

Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN 01/12/2013

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013/01/12/harnessing-personalized-medicine-for-cancer-management-prospects-of-prevention-and-cure-opinions-of-cancer-scientific-leaders-httppharmaceuticalintelligence-com/

Breakthrough Digestive Disorders Research: Conditions affecting the Gastrointestinal Tract.

Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN 12/12/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/12/12/breakthrough-digestive-disorders-research-conditions-affecting-the-gastrointestinal-tract/

A Second Look at the Transthyretin Nutrition Inflammatory Conundrum

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reporter, RN 12/03/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/12/03/a-second-look-at-the-transthyretin-nutrition-inflammatory-conundrum/

Metabolic drivers in aggressive brain tumors

Prabodh Kandala, PhD, RN 11/11/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/11/11/metabolic-drivers-in-aggressive-brain-tumors/

Metabolite Identification Combining Genetic and Metabolic Information: Genetic association links unknown metabolites to functionally related genes

Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN 10/22/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/10/22/metabolite-identification-combining-genetic-and-metabolic-information-genetic-association-links-unknown-metabolites-to-functionally-related-genes/

Advances in Separations Technology for the “OMICs” and Clarification of Therapeutic Targets

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reporter, RN 10/22/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/10/22/advances-in-separations-technology-for-the-omics-and-clarification-of-therapeutic-targets/

Expanding the Genetic Alphabet and linking the genome to the metabolome

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reporter, RN 09/24/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/09/24/expanding-the-genetic-alphabet-and-linking-the-genome-to-the-metabolome/

Therapeutic Targets for Diabetes and Related Metabolic Disorders

Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN 08/20/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/08/20/therapeutic-targets-for-diabetes-and-related-metabolic-disorders/

The Automated Second Opinion Generator

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Reporter, RN 08/13/2012

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2012/08/13/the-automated-second-opinion-generator/

 

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