CELL PAIRING AND METHYLATION IN TETRAHYMENA THERMOPHILA ARE ALTERED BY EXOGENOUS HOMOCYSTEINE

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Abstract

Homocysteine is causally associated with birth defects such as spina bifida, and with premature vascular disease. We have investigated the effects of homocysteine on a cell—cell interaction in a fundamental eukaryotic system, the free-living ciliate Tetrahymena. Exogenously added homocysteine inhibits cell pairing in a dose-dependent manner. These effects are exacerbated by adenosine, which by itself has little demonstrable influence on pairing. S -adenosylhomocysteine (SAH) is a product of the reaction between adenosine and homocysteine, and is an inhibitor of methyl transferases. We therefore predicted that protein methylation would be significantly inhibited by homocysteine. A direct test of that hypothesis involved a demonstration that incorporation of an isotopically labeled methyl group from methionine into proteins was significantly reduced by homocysteine. The undermethylated proteins are of low molecular weight, and might correspond to known methylatable signaling proteins. We show that vanadate, an inhibitor of protein phosphatase, also inhibits cell pairing, and that the effects of vanadate and homocysteine are additive. This is the first demonstration that methylation and possibly phosphorylation play a regulatory role in cell—cell interactions in ciliates.

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