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J Neurochem. 2007 Mar;100(6):1458-68.

Widespread neuronal expression of branched-chain aminotransferase in the CNS: implications for leucine/glutamate metabolism and for signaling by amino acids.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157, USA.


Transamination of the branched-chain amino acids produces glutamate and branched-chain alpha-ketoacids. The reaction is catalyzed by branched-chain aminotransferase (BCAT), of which there are cytosolic and mitochondrial isoforms (BCATc and BCATm). BCATc accounts for 70% of brain BCAT activity, and contributes at least 30% of the nitrogen required for glutamate synthesis. In previous work, we showed that BCATc is present in the processes of glutamatergic neurons and in cell bodies of GABAergic neurons in hippocampus and cerebellum. Here we show that this metabolic enzyme is expressed throughout the brain and spinal cord, with distinct differences in regional and intracellular patterns of expression. In the cerebral cortex, BCATc is present in GABAergic interneurons and in pyramidal cell axons and proximal dendrites. Axonal labeling for BCATc continues into the corpus callosum and internal capsule. BCATc is expressed by GABAergic neurons in the basal ganglia and by glutamatergic neurons in the hypothalamus, midbrain, brainstem, and dorsal root ganglia. BCATc is also expressed in hypothalamic peptidergic neurons, brainstem serotoninergic neurons, and spinal cord motor neurons. The results indicate that BCATc accumulates in neuronal cell bodies in some regions, while elsewhere it is exported to axons and nerve terminals. The enzyme is in a position to influence pools of glutamate in a variety of neuronal types. BCATc may also provide neurons with sensitivity to nutrient-derived BCAAs, which may be important in regions that control feeding behavior, such as the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, where neurons express high levels of BCATc.

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