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Trends Biochem Sci. 2005 Dec;30(12):666-71. Epub 2005 Oct 27.

Protein arginine methyltransferases: guardians of the Arg?

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  • 1Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Heinrich-Pette-Institute, Martinistrasse 52, 20251 Hamburg, Germany.


The recent discovery of enzymes that convert methylated arginine residues in proteins to citrulline has catapulted arginine methylation into the attention of cell-signaling researchers. Long considered a rather static post-translational modification of marginal interest, it seems that arginine methylation has now joined the group of signaling pathways that operate via pairs of antagonistic enzymes. However, many questions remain unanswered, especially concerning the removal mechanism and its implication for the physiological role of arginine methylation. I propose that, in addition to the broadly discussed function as regulator of protein activity, arginine methylation might serve a second purpose: protection of arginine residues against attack by endogenous reactive dicarbonyl agents, such as methylglyoxal, which are natural by-products of normal metabolic pathways. Inefficient detoxification of these highly cytotoxic compounds results in inactivation of proteins that is causally linked to diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and pathophysiologies of aging. This new concept of 'arginine protection' might have far-reaching implications for the development of drugs that exploit a natural protection mechanism for medical purposes.

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