Neuronal Metabolism of Branched-Chain Amino Acids: Flux Through the Aminotransferase Pathway in Synaptosomes


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. M. Yudkoff at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 1 Children's Center, Abramson Building, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4318, U.S.A.


Abstract: The metabolism of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) was studied in cortical synaptosomes. With [15N]leucine (1 mM) as precursor, the cumulative appearance of 15N in [15N]glutamate and [15N]aspartate was 0.2 nmol/min/mg of protein without supplemental α-ketoglutarate and 0.3 nmol/min/mg of protein in the presence of α-ketoglutarate (0.5 mM). The BCAA aminotransferase reaction also proceeded in the “reverse” direction [α-ketoisocaproate (KIC) + glutamate → leucine + α-ketoglutarate]. This was documented by incubating synaptosomes with [15N]glutamate and measuring the formation of [15N]leucine. Without KIC in the medium, the rate of [15N]leucine production was 0.13 nmol/min/mg of protein. In the presence of 25 µM KIC the rate was 0.79 nmol/min/mg of protein and even greater (1.0 nmol/min/mg of protein) in the presence of 500 µM KIC. The reamination of KIC was two- to threefold faster with [2-15N]glutamine as precursor compared with [15N]glutamate. The ketoacid of valine, α-ketoisovalerate (KIV), was reaminated to [15N]valine at a rate comparable to that observed with respect to KIC. The BCAA transaminase mediated not only the bidirectional transfer of amino groups between leucine or valine and glutamate, but also the direct transfer of nitrogen between leucine and valine. This was ascertained in studies in which the incubation medium was supplemented with either [15N]leucine and KIV or [15N]valine and KIC (amino acids at 1 mM and ketoacids at 25 or 500 µM). The rate was faster in the direction of leucine formation at both the lower (6.1-fold) and higher (1.7-fold) KIC concentration. It is suggested that in synaptosomes the BCAA transaminase (a) functions predominantly in the direction of leucine formation and (b) maintains a constant ratio of BCAAs and ketoacids to one other.