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Keywords:

  • argininosuccinate synthetase;
  • urea cycle;
  • arginine;
  • citrulline-NO cycle;
  • transcription regulation;
  • DNA binding sequences

Argininosuccinate synthetase (ASS, EC 6.3.4.5) catalyses the condensation of citrulline and aspartate to form argininosuccinate, the immediate precursor of arginine. First identified in the liver as the limiting enzyme of the urea cycle, ASS is now recognized as a ubiquitous enzyme in mammalian tissues. Indeed, discovery of the citrulline–NO cycle has increased interest in this enzyme that was found to represent a potential limiting step in NO synthesis. Depending on arginine utilization, location and regulation of ASS are quite different. In the liver, where arginine is hydrolyzed to form urea and ornithine, the ASS gene is highly expressed, and hormones and nutrients constitute the major regulating factors: (a) glucocorticoids, glucagon and insulin, particularly, control the expression of this gene both during development and adult life; (b) dietary protein intake stimulates ASS gene expression, with a particular efficiency of specific amino acids like glutamine. In contrast, in NO-producing cells, where arginine is the direct substrate in the NO synthesis, ASS gene is expressed at a low level and in this way, proinflammatory signals constitute the main factors of regulation of the gene expression. In most cases, regulation of ASS gene expression is exerted at a transcriptional level, but molecular mechanisms are still poorly understood.