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Diabetes. 2001 Feb;50(2):353-60.

Metabolic regulation by leucine of translation initiation through the mTOR-signaling pathway by pancreatic beta-cells.

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Department of Pathology and Immunology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Recent findings have demonstrated that the branched-chain amino acid leucine can activate the translational regulators, phosphorylated heat- and acid-stable protein regulated by insulin (PHAS-I) and p70 S6 kinase (p70S6k), in an insulin-independent and rapamycin-sensitive manner through mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), although the mechanism for this activation is undefined. It has been previously established that leucine-induced insulin secretion by beta-cells involves increased mitochondrial metabolism by oxidative decarboxylation and allosteric activation of glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). We now show that these same intramitochondrial events that generate signals for leucine-induced insulin exocytosis are required to activate the mTOR mitogenic signaling pathway by beta-cells. Thus, a minimal model consisting of leucine and glutamine as substrates for oxidative decarboxylation and an activator of GDH, respectively, confirmed the requirement for these two metabolic components and mimicked closely the synergistic interactions achieved by a complete complement of amino acids to activate p70s6k in a rapamycin-sensitive manner. Studies using various leucine analogs also confirmed the close association of mitochondrial metabolism and the ability of leucine analogs to activate p70s6k. Furthermore, selective inhibitors of mitochondrial function blocked this activation in a reversible manner, which was not associated with a global reduction in ATP levels. These findings indicate that leucine at physiological concentrations stimulates p70s6k phosphorylation via the mTOR pathway, in part, by serving both as a mitochondrial fuel and an allosteric activator of GDH. Leucine-mediated activation of protein translation through mTOR may contribute to enhanced beta-cell function by stimulating growth-related protein synthesis and proliferation associated with the maintenance of beta-cell mass.

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