Neurochemistry international

Alpha helical structures in the leader sequence of human GLUD2 glutamate dehydrogenase responsible for mitochondrial import.

PMID 22709669


Human glutamate dehydrogenase (hGDH) exists in two highly homologous isoforms with a distinct regulatory and tissue expression profile: a housekeeping hGDH1 isoprotein encoded by the GLUD1 gene and an hGDH2 isoenzyme encoded by the GLUD2 gene. There is evidence that both isoenzymes are synthesized as pro-enzymes containing a 53 amino acid long N-terminal leader peptide that is cleaved upon translocation into the mitochondria. However, this GDH signal peptide is substantially larger than that of most nuclear DNA-encoded mitochondrial proteins, the leader sequence of which typically contains 17-35 amino acids and they often form a single amphipathic α-helix. To decode the structural elements that are essential for the mitochondrial targeting of human GDHs, we performed secondary structure analyses of their leader sequence. These analyses predicted, with 82% accuracy, that both leader peptides are positively charged and that they form two to three α-helices, separated by intermediate loops. The first α-helix of hGDH2 is strongly amphipathic, displaying both a positively charged surface and a hydrophobic plane. We then constructed GLUD2-EGFP deletion mutants and used them to transfect three mammalian cell lines (HEK293, COS 7 and SHSY-5Y). Confocal laser scanning microscopy, following co-transfection with pDsRed2-Mito mitochondrial targeting vector, revealed that deletion of the entire leader sequence prevented the enzyme from entering the mitochondria, resulting in its retention in the cytoplasm. Deletion of the first strongly amphipathic α-helix only was also sufficient to prevent the mitochondrial localization of the truncated protein. Moreover, truncated leader sequences, retaining the second and/or the third putative α-helix, failed to restore the mitochondrial import of hGDH2. As such, the first N-terminal alpha helical structure is crucial for the mitochondrial import of hGDH2 and these findings may have implications in understanding the evolutionary mechanisms that led to the large mitochondrial targeting signals of human GDHs.