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J Nutr. 2001 Sep;131(9 Suppl):2467S-74S; discussion 2486S-7S. doi: 10.1093/jn/131.9.2467S.

Mechanisms governing the expression of the enzymes of glutamine metabolism--glutaminase and glutamine synthetase.

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Department of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Whether on the scale of a single cell, organ or organism, glutamine homeostasis is to a large extent determined by the activities of glutaminase (GA, EC and glutamine synthetase (GS, EC, the two enzymes that are the focus of this report. GA and GS each provide examples of regulation of gene expression at many different levels. In the case of GA, two different genes (hepatic- and kidney-type GA) encode isoforms of this enzyme. The expression of hepatic GA mRNA is increased during starvation, diabetes and high protein diet through a mechanism involving increased gene transcription. In contrast, the expression of kidney GA mRNA is increased post-transcriptionally by a mechanism that increases mRNA stability during acidosis. We found recently that several isoforms of rat and human kidney-type GA are formed by tissue-specific alternative RNA splicing. Although the implications of this post-transcriptional processing mechanism for GA activity are not yet clear, it allows for the expression of different GA isoforms in different tissues and may limit the expression of GA activity in muscle tissues by diverting primary RNA transcripts to a spliceform that produces a nonfunctional translation product. The expression of GS enzyme is also regulated by both transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms. For example, the GS gene is transcriptionally activated by glucocorticoid hormones in a tissue-specific fashion. This hormonal response allows GS mRNA levels to increase in selected organs during catabolic states. However, the ultimate level of GS enzyme expression is further governed by a post-transcriptional mechanism regulating GS protein stability. In a unique form of product feedback, GS protein turnover is increased by glutamine. This mechanism appears to provide a means to index the production of glutamine to its intracellular concentration and, therefore, to its systemic demand. Herein, we also provide experimental evidence that GS protein turnover is dependent upon the activity of the 26S proteosome.

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