Background: There are three pathways of L-threonine catabolism. The enzyme L-threonine aldolase (TA) has been shown to catalyse the conversion of L-threonine to yield glycine and acetaldehyde in bacteria, fungi and plants. Low levels of TA enzymatic activity have been found in vertebrates. It has been suggested that any detectable activity is due to serine hydroxymethyltransferase and that mammals lack a genuine threonine aldolase.
Results: The 7-exon murine L-threonine aldolase gene (GLY1) is located on chromosome 11, spanning 5.6 kb. The cDNA encodes a 400-residue protein. The protein has 81% similarity with the bacterium Thermotoga maritima TA. Almost all known functional residues are conserved between the two proteins including Lys242 that forms a Schiff-base with the cofactor, pyridoxal-5'-phosphate. The human TA gene is located at 17q25. It contains two single nucleotide deletions, in exons 4 and 7, which cause frame-shifts and a premature in-frame stop codon towards the carboxy-terminal. Expression of human TA mRNA was undetectable by RT-PCR. In mice, TA mRNA was found at low levels in a range of adult tissues, being highest in prostate, heart and liver. In contrast, serine/threonine dehydratase, another enzyme that catabolises L-threonine, is expressed very highly only in the liver. Serine dehydratase-like 1, also was most abundant in the liver. In whole mouse embryos TA mRNA expression was low prior to E-15 increasing more than four-fold by E-17.
Conclusion: Mice, the western-clawed frog and the zebrafish have transcribed threonine aldolase/GLY1 genes, but the human homolog is a non-transcribed pseudogene. Serine dehydratase-like 1 is a putative L-threonine catabolising enzyme.