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FEBS Lett. 1999 Aug 27;457(2):255-61.

Involvement of branched-chain amino acid aminotransferase (Bcat1/Eca39) in apoptosis.

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Department of Genetics, Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Givat-Ram, Jerusalem, Israel.


The branched-chain amino acid aminotransferase, Bcat1/Eca39, catalyzes the first step of branched-chain amino acid catabolism. Bcat1/Eca39 was originally isolated from a c-myc-induced tumor and was proven to be a direct target for c-Myc regulation. The gene is highly conserved in evolution and disruption of its yeast homolog affects cell growth. To assess the role of Bcat1/Eca39 in mammalian cells, we overexpressed Bcat1/Eca39 in murine cells and studied effects on cell growth. Overexpression of Bcat1/Eca39 had no apparent effect on the proliferation of cells grown with high serum concentrations, but under serum deprivation conditions, led to a decrease in cell viability. Cell death under these conditions displayed apoptotic features. The branched-chain keto acid, alpha-ketoisocaproate, a metabolite of leucine catabolism produced by BCAT1/ECA39, was previously found to inhibit cell growth. We show that alpha-ketoisocaproate can induce rapid apoptotic cell death. This observation suggests that the growth inhibitory effect of BCAT1/ECA39 and its apoptosis promoting effect may be mediated by the levels of the products of BCAT1/ECA39 activity, namely, branched-chain keto acids.

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