l-Asparaginyl and l-aspartyl residues in proteins are subject to spontaneous degradation reactions that generate isomerized and racemized aspartyl derivatives. Proteins containing l-isoaspartyl and d-aspartyl residues can have altered structures and diminished biological activity. These residues are recognized by a highly conserved cytosolic enzyme, the protein l-isoaspartate(d-aspartate) O-methyltransferase (EC 220.127.116.11). The enzymatic methyl esterification of these abnormal residues in vitro can lead to their conversion (i.e., repair) to normal l-aspartyl residues and should therefore prevent the accumulation of potentially dysfunctional proteins in vivo as cells and tissues age. Particularly high levels of the repair methyltransferase are present in the brain, although enyzme activity is present in all vertebrate tissues. To define the physiological relevance of this protein-repair pathway and to determine whether deficient protein repair would cause central nervous system dysfunction, we used gene targeting in mouse embryonic stem cells to generate protein l-isoaspartate(d-aspartate) O-methyltransferase-deficient mice. Analyses of tissues from methyltransferase knockout mice revealed a striking accumulation of protein substrates for this enzyme in the cytosolic fraction of brain, heart, liver, and erythrocytes. The knockout mice showed significant growth retardation and succumbed to fatal seizures at an average of 42 days after birth. These results suggest that the ability of mice to repair l-isoaspartyl- and d-aspartyl-containing proteins is essential for normal growth and for normal central nervous system function
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