Evolution of glutamate dehydrogenase regulation of insulin homeostasis is an example of molecular exaptation

Aron Allen, Jae Kwagh, Jie Fang, Charles A. Stanley, Thomas J. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) is found in all organisms and catalyzes the oxidative deamination of glutamate to 2-oxoglutarate. While this enzyme does not exhibit allosteric regulation in plants, bacteria, or fungi, its activity is tightly controlled by a number of compounds in mammals. We have previously shown that this regulation plays an important role in insulin homeostasis in humans and evolved concomitantly with a 48-residue "antenna" structure. As shown here, the antenna and some of the allosteric regulation first appears in the Ciliates. This primitive regulation is mediated by fatty acids and likely reflects the gradual movement of fatty acid oxidation from the peroxisomes to the mitochondria as the Ciliates evolved away from plants, fungi, and other protists. Mutagenesis studies where the antenna is deleted support this contention by demonstrating that the antenna is essential for fatty acid regulation. When the antenna from the Ciliates is spliced onto human GDH, it was found to fully communicate all aspects of mammalian regulation. Therefore, we propose that glutamate dehydrogenase regulation of insulin secretion is a example of exaptation at the molecular level where the antenna and associated fatty acid regulation was created to accommodate the changes in organelle function in the Ciliates and then later used to link amino acid catabolism and/or regulation of intracellular glutamate/glutamine levels in the pancreatic β cells with insulin homeostasis in mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14431-14443
Number of pages13
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 16 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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