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J Biol Chem. 2005 Mar 25;280(12):10888-96. Epub 2005 Jan 12.

Reduction in the E2k subunit of the alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complex has effects independent of complex activity.

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Department of Neurology and Neuroscience, Weill Medical College of Cornell University at Burke Medical Research Institute, White Plains, New York 10605, USA.


The activity of the alpha-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complex (KGDHC) declines in brains of patients with several neurodegenerative diseases. KGDHC consists of multiple copies of E1k, E2k, and E3. E1k and E2k are unique to KGDHC and may have functions independent of the complex. The present study tested the consequences of different levels of diminished E2k mRNA on protein levels of the subunits, KGDHC activity, and physiological responses. Human embryonic kidney cells were stably transfected with an E2k sense or antisense expression vector. Sense control (E2k-mRNA-100) was compared with two clones in which the mRNA was reduced to 67% of control (E2k-mRNA-67) or to 30% of control (E2k-mRNA-30). The levels of the E2k protein in clones paralleled the reduction in mRNA, and E3 proteins were unaltered. Unexpectedly, the clone with the greatest reduction in E2k protein (E2k-mRNA-30) had a 40% increase in E1k protein. The activity of the complex was only 52% of normal in E2k-mRNA-67 clone, but was near normal (90%) in E2k-mRNA-30 clone. Subsequent experiments tested whether the physiological consequences of a reduction in E2k mRNA correlated more closely to E2k protein or to KGDHC activity. Growth rate, increased DCF-detectable reactive oxygen species, and cell death in response to added oxidant were proportional to E2k proteins, but not complex activity. These results were not predicted because subunits unique to KGDHC have never been manipulated in mammalian cells. These results suggest that in addition to its essential role in metabolism, the E2k component of KGDHC may have other novel roles.

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