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Branched-chain amino acids and neurotransmitter metabolism: expression of cytosolic branched-chain aminotransferase (BCATc) in the cerebellum and hippocampus

Sweatt, A.J.; Garcia-Espinosa, M.A.; Wallin, R.; Hutson, S.M.

Journal of Comparative Neurology 477(4): 360-370

2004


ISSN/ISBN: 0021-9967
PMID: 15329886
DOI: 10.1002/cne.20200
Accession: 011817564

In the brain, catabolism of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) provides nitrogen for the synthesis of glutamate and glutamine. Glutamate is formed through transfer of an amino group from BCAA to alpha-ketoglutarate in reaction catalyzed by branched-chain aminotransferases (BCAT). There are two isozymes of BCAT: cytosolic BCATc, which is found in the nervous system, ovary, and placenta, and mitochondrial BCATm, which is found in all organs except rat liver. In cell culture systems, BCATc is found only in neurons and developing oligodendrocytes, whereas BCATm is the isoform in astroglia. In this study, we used immunohistochemistry to examine the distribution of BCATc in the rat brain, focusing on the well-known neural architecture of the cerebellum and hippocampus. We show that BCATc is expressed only in neurons in the adult rat brain. In glutamatergic neurons such as granule cells of the cerebellar cortex and of the dentate gyrus, BCATc is localized to axons and nerve terminals. In contrast, in GABAergic neurons such as cerebellar Purkinje cells and hippocampal pyramidal basket cells, BCATc is concentrated in cell bodies. A common function for BCATc in these neurotransmitter systems may be to modulate amounts of glutamate available either for release as neurotransmitter or for use as precursor for synthesis of GABA. Particularly striking in our findings is the strong expression of BCATc in the mossy fiber pathway of the hippocampal formation. This result is discussed in light of the effectiveness of the anticonvulsant drug gabapentin, which is a specific inhibitor of BCATc.

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