Background. Glutamine synthetase (GS) is ubiquitously expressed in the human and plays a major role for many metabolic pathways. However, little is known about its role during the fetal period. Methods. Cultured skin fibroblasts derived from an aborted fetus deficient in GS activity due to a R324C exchange as well as fetal and mature controls were used to determine the level of GS-expression, apoptosis, and proliferation in presence or absence of exogenous glutamine. Results. Glutamine synthetase can be found at early gestational stages. Loss of GS activity either inherited or induced through l-methionine sulfoximine leads to an upregulation of the GS protein but not of the GS mRNA and results in a significant drop in the proliferation rate but has no effect on apoptosis. Exogenous glutamine does not influence the rate of apoptosis but increases proliferation rates of the fetal but not the mature fibroblasts. Conclusion. GS can be found during early human fetal stages when it displays a significant effect on cell proliferation.
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