Influence of Threonine Metabolism on S-Adenosylmethionine and Histone Methylation

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Science  11 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6116, pp. 222-226
DOI: 10.1126/science.1226603

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SAM, Histones, and Stem Cells

Mouse embryonic stem cells require threonine for growth and express large amounts of the enzyme that catalyzes the first step in threonine metabolism. To find out what is so important about threonine in these cells, Shyh-Change et al. (p. 222, published online 1 November; see the Perspective by Sassone-Corsi) monitored changes in metabolism by mass spectrometry in induced pluripotent stem cells. Threonine was required to maintain cellular concentrations of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), a substrate used for protein methylation. Restriction of threonine inhibited methylation of histones, which is characteristic of chromatin in embryonic stem cells. Thus, altered metabolism of threonine and methionine in stem cells may be linked to epigenetic changes that influence genetic reprogramming and decisions of stem cells to proliferate or differentiate.


Threonine is the only amino acid critically required for the pluripotency of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs), but the detailed mechanism remains unclear. We found that threonine and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) metabolism are coupled in pluripotent stem cells, resulting in regulation of histone methylation. Isotope labeling of mESCs revealed that threonine provides a substantial fraction of both the cellular glycine and the acetyl–coenzyme A (CoA) needed for SAM synthesis. Depletion of threonine from the culture medium or threonine dehydrogenase (Tdh) from mESCs decreased accumulation of SAM and decreased trimethylation of histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4me3), leading to slowed growth and increased differentiation. Thus, abundance of SAM appears to influence H3K4me3, providing a possible mechanism by which modulation of a metabolic pathway might influence stem cell fate.

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