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Biochem J. 2006 Nov 15;400(1):e1-3.

The case for regulating indispensable amino acid metabolism: the branched-chain alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase kinase-knockout mouse.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA.


BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are indispensable (essential) amino acids that are required for body protein synthesis. Indispensable amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body and must be acquired from the diet. The BCAA leucine provides hormone-like signals to tissues such as skeletal muscle, indicating overall nutrient sufficiency. BCAA metabolism provides an important transport system to move nitrogen throughout the body for the synthesis of dispensable (non-essential) amino acids, including the neurotransmitter glutamate in the central nervous system. BCAA metabolism is tightly regulated to maintain levels high enough to support these important functions, but at the same time excesses are prevented via stimulation of irreversible disposal pathways. It is well known from inborn errors of BCAA metabolism that dysregulation of the BCAA catabolic pathways that leads to excess BCAAs and their alpha-keto acid metabolites results in neural dysfunction. In this issue of Biochemical Journal, Joshi and colleagues have disrupted the murine BDK (branched-chain alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase kinase) gene. This enzyme serves as the brake on BCAA catabolism. The impaired growth and neurological abnormalities observed in this animal show conclusively the importance of tight regulation of indispensable amino acid metabolism.

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