Regulation of N-acetylaspartate and N-acetylaspartylglutamate biosynthesis by protein kinase activators


Address correspondence and reprint requests to M. A. Aryan Namboodiri, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Genetics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Road., Bethesda, MD 20814, USA. E-mail:


The neuronal dipeptide N-acetylaspartylglutamate (NAAG) is thought to be synthesized enzymatically from N-acetylaspartate (NAA) and glutamate. We used radiolabeled precursors to examine NAA and NAAG biosynthesis in SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells stimulated with activators of protein kinase A (dbcAMP; N6,2′-O-dibutyryl cAMP) and protein kinase C (PMA; phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate). Differentiation over the course of several days with dbcAMP resulted in increased endogenous NAA levels and NAAG synthesis from l-[3H]glutamine, whereas PMA-induced differentiation reduced both. Exogenously applied NAA caused dose dependent increases in intracellular NAA levels, and NAAG biosynthesis from l-[3H]glutamine, suggesting precursor–product and mass–action relationships between NAA and NAAG. Incorporation of l-[3H]aspartate into NAA and NAAG occurred sequentially, appearing in NAA by 1 h, but not in NAAG until between 6 and 24 h. Synthesis of NAAG from l-[3H]aspartate was increased by dbcAMP and decreased by PMA at 24 h. The effects of PMA on l-[3H]aspartate incorporation into NAA were temporally biphasic. Using short incubation times (1 and 6 h), PMA increased l-[3H]aspartate incorporation into NAA, but with longer incubation (24 h), incorporation was significantly reduced. These results suggest that, while the neuronal production of NAA and NAAG are biochemically related, significant differences exist in the regulatory mechanisms controlling their biosynthesis.