Background. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the blood, and its deprivation leads to gut mucosal atrophy. The small intestinal mucosa is maintained by a balance between cell proliferation and cell death by apoptosis. We reported that glutamine is required for mitogen-stimulated proliferation in intestinal epithelial cells. We do not know whether glutamine regulates apoptosis in the gut. The purpose of this study is to determine whether glutamine deprivation induces apoptosis in rat intestinal epithelial (RIE-1) cells and to compare the effect of glutamine starvation with that of methionine and cysteine (Met/Cys) starvation. Methods. RIE-1 cells were deprived of either glutamine or Met/Cys for 24 hours. Cell numbers were determined by cell counting and tetrazolium enzymatic assay. Apoptosis was quantified by Annexin V assay and confirmed by DNA gel electrophoresis and Hoechst nuclear staining. Results. Deprivation of glutamine or Met/Cys resulted in decreased cell numbers. However, only the glut- amine-deprived group showed significant induction of apoptosis with increased Annexin V staining, DNA laddering, and nuclear condensation. Conclusions. This study provides biochemical and morphologic evidence that glutamine deprivation induces apoptosis in rat intestinal epithelial cells. In contrast, Met/Cys starvation suppresses cell number without induction of apoptosis: These results suggest that glutamine serves as a specific survival factor in enterocytes.
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