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Regulation of Cellular Metabolism through Phase Separation of Enzymes

  • Prouteau, Manoël
  • Loewith, Robbie
Publication Date
Dec 03, 2018
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Metabolism is the sum of the life-giving chemical processes that occur within a cell. Proper regulation of these processes is essential for all organisms to thrive and prosper. When external factors are too extreme, or if internal regulation is corrupted through genetic or epigenetic changes, metabolic homeostasis is no longer achievable and diseases such as metabolic syndrome or cancer, aging, and, ultimately, death ensue. Metabolic reactions are catalyzed by proteins, and the in vitro kinetic properties of these enzymes have been studied by biochemists for many decades. These efforts led to the appreciation that enzyme activities can be acutely regulated and that this regulation is critical to metabolic homeostasis. Regulation can be mediated through allosteric interactions with metabolites themselves or via post-translational modifications triggered by intracellular signal transduction pathways. More recently, enzyme regulation has attracted the attention of cell biologists who noticed that change in growth conditions often triggers the condensation of diffusely localized enzymes into one or more discrete foci, easily visible by light microscopy. This reorganization from a soluble to a condensed state is best described as a phase separation. As summarized in this review, stimulus-induced phase separation has now been observed for dozens of enzymes suggesting that this could represent a widespread mode of activity regulation, rather than, or in addition to, a storage form of temporarily superfluous enzymes. Building on our recent structure determination of TOROIDs (TORc1 Organized in Inhibited Domain), the condensate formed by the protein kinase Target Of Rapamycin Complex 1 (TORC1), we will highlight that the molecular organization of enzyme condensates can vary dramatically and that future work aimed at the structural characterization of enzyme condensates will be critical to understand how phase separation regulates enzyme activity and consequently metabolic homeostasis. This information may ultimately facilitate the design of strategies to target the assembly or disassembly of specific enzymes condensates as a therapeutic approach to restore metabolic homeostasis in certain diseases.

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