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Amino Acids. 2014 May;46(5):1285-96. doi: 10.1007/s00726-014-1687-1. Epub 2014 Feb 21.

Upregulation of capacity for glutathione synthesis in response to amino acid deprivation: regulation of glutamate-cysteine ligase subunits.

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Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853, USA.


Using HepG2/C3A cells and MEFs, we investigated whether induction of GSH synthesis in response to sulfur amino acid deficiency is mediated by the decrease in cysteine levels or whether it requires a decrease in GSH levels per se. Both the glutamate-cysteine ligase catalytic (GCLC) and modifier (GCLM) subunit mRNA levels were upregulated in response to a lack of cysteine or other essential amino acids, independent of GSH levels. This upregulation did not occur in MEFs lacking GCN2 (general control non-derepressible 2, also known as eIF2α kinase 4) or in cells expressing mutant eIF2α lacking the eIF2α kinase Ser(51) phosphorylation site, indicating that expression of both GCLC and GCLM was mediated by the GCN2/ATF4 stress response pathway. Only the increase in GCLM mRNA level, however, was accompanied by a parallel increase in protein expression, suggesting that the enhanced capacity for GSH synthesis depended largely on increased association of GCLC with its regulatory subunit. Upregulation of both GCLC and GLCM mRNA levels in response to cysteine deprivation was dependent on new protein synthesis, which is consistent with expression of GCLC and GCLM being mediated by proteins whose synthesis depends on activation of the GCN2/ATF4 pathway. Our data suggest that the regulation of GCLC expression may be mediated by changes in the abundance of transcriptional regulators, whereas the regulation of GCLM expression may be mediated by changes in the abundance of mRNA stabilizing or destabilizing proteins. Upregulation of GCLM levels in response to low cysteine levels may serve to protect the cell in the face of a future stress requiring GSH as an antioxidant or conjugating/detoxifying agent.

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