The leucine-to-glutamate (Leu→Glu) pathway, which metabolizes the carbon atoms of l-leucine to form l-glutamate, was studied by incubation of rat tissue segments with l-[U-(14)C]leucine and estimation of the [(14)C]glutamate formed. Metabolism of the leucine carbon chain occurs in most rat tissues, but maximal activity of the Leu→Glu pathway for glutamate formation is limited to the thoracic aorta and pancreas. In rat aorta, the Leu→Glu pathway functions to relax the underlying smooth muscle; its functions in the pancreas are unknown. This report characterizes the Leu→Glu pathway of rat pancreas and develops methods to examine its functions. Pancreatic segments effect net formation of glutamate on incubation with l-leucine, l-glutamine, or a mix of 18 other plasma amino acids at their concentrations in normal rat plasma. Glutamate formed from leucine remains mainly in the tissue, whereas that from glutamine enters the medium. The pancreatic Leu→Glu pathway uses the leucine carbons for net glutamate formation; the α-amino group is not used; the stoichiometry is as follows: 1 mol of leucine yields 2 mol of glutamate (2 leucine carbons per glutamate) plus 2 mol of CO2. Comparison of the Leu→Glu pathway in preparations of whole pancreatic segments, isolated acini, and islets of Langerhans localizes it in the acini; relatively high activity is found in cultures of the AR42J cell line and very little in the INS-1 832/13 cell line. Pancreatic tissue glutamate concentration is homeostatically regulated in the range of ∼1-3 μmol/g wet wt. l-Valine and leucine ethyl, benzyl, and tert-butyl esters inhibit the Leu→Glu pathway without decreasing tissue total glutamate.
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