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J Biol Chem. 2004 Aug 27;279(35):36553-61. Epub 2004 Jun 22.

Preservation of liver protein synthesis during dietary leucine deprivation occurs at the expense of skeletal muscle mass in mice deleted for eIF2 kinase GCN2.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Evansville, IN 47712, USA.


In eukaryotic cells, amino acid depletion reduces translation by a mechanism involving phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor-2 (eIF2). Herein we describe that mice lacking the eIF2 kinase, general control nonderepressible 2 (GCN2) fail to alter the phosphorylation of this initiation factor in liver, and are moribund in response to dietary leucine restriction. Wild-type (GCN2(+/+)) and two strains of GCN2 null (GCN2(-/-)) mice were provided a nutritionally complete diet or a diet devoid of leucine or glycine for 1 h or 6 days. In wild-type mice, dietary leucine restriction resulted in loss of body weight and liver mass, yet mice remained healthy. In contrast, a significant proportion of GCN2(-/-) mice died within 6 days of the leucine-deficient diet. Protein synthesis in wild-type livers was decreased concomitant with increased phosphorylation of eIF2 and decreased phosphorylation of 4E-BP1 and S6K1, translation regulators controlled nutritionally by mammalian target of rapamycin. Whereas translation in the liver was decreased independent of GCN2 activity in mice fed a leucine-free diet for 1 h, protein synthesis in GCN2(-/-) mice at day 6 was enhanced to levels measured in mice fed the complete diet. Interestingly, in addition to a block in eIF2 phosphorylation, phosphorylation of 4E-BP1 and S6K1 was not decreased in GCN2(-/-) mice deprived of leucine for 6 days. This suggests that GCN2 activity can also contribute to nutritional regulation of the mammalian target of rapamycin pathway. As a result of the absence of these translation inhibitory signals, liver weights were preserved and instead, skeletal muscle mass was reduced in GCN2(-/-) mice fed a leucine-free diet. This study indicates that loss of GCN2 eIF2 kinase activity shifts the normal maintenance of protein mass away from skeletal muscle to provide substrate for continued hepatic translation.

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