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Biochemistry. 2008 Jan 15;47(2):698-709. Epub 2007 Dec 20.

Secreted 3-isopropylmalate methyl ester signals invasive growth during amino acid starvation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the Molecular Biology Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1569, USA.


The Saccharomyces cerevisiae methyltransferase encoded by TMT1 catalyzes the AdoMet-dependent monomethylation of 3-isopropylmalate, an intermediate of the leucine biosynthetic pathway. The biological significance of methylating 3-isopropylmalate and the relationship between Tmt1 and the leucine biosynthetic pathway is not yet established. We present evidence here showing that methylation of 3-isopropylmalate functions to extracellularly signal yeast to grow invasively. We show that methyl esterification generates 3-isopropylmalate-1-methyl ester. We find that the Tmt1 methyltransferase functions independently of the biosynthetic pathway but is induced when cells are starved for amino acids; the largest induction is observed with the removal of leucine from the media. This amino acid starvation stress response is controlled by the transcriptional activator Gcn4. After methylation, 3-isopropylmalate methyl ester is secreted into the media within 3 h. Thin layer chromatography and gas chromatography mass spectroscopy confirm that the intact molecule is secreted. Finally, we show that purified 3-isopropylmalate methyl ester can enhance the ability of the haploid yeast strain 10560-23C to grow invasively. Our data identifies 3-isopropylmalate methyl ester as an autoinductive molecule that provides a signal to yeast to switch from vegetative to invasive growth in response to amino acid starvation.

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