Mutations in the transketolase-like gene TKTL1: clinical implications for neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer

Clin Lab. 2005;51(5-6):257-73.


Transketolase proteins or transketolase enzyme activities have been related to neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Transketolase enzyme variants and reduced transketolase enzyme activities are present in patients with the neurodegenerative disease Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. In Alzheimer's disease patients transketolase protein variants with different isoelectric points or a proteolytic cleavage leading to small transketolase protein isoforms have been identified. In diabetes mellitus patients reduced transketolase enzyme activities have been detected and the lipid-soluble thiamine derivative benfotiamine activates transketolase enzyme reactions, thereby blocking three major pathways of hyperglycemic damage and preventing diabetic retinopathy. In cancer inhibition of transketolase enzyme reactions suppresses tumor growth and metastasis. All the observed phenomena have been interpreted solely on the basis of a single transketolase gene (TKT) encoding a single transketolase enzyme. No mutations have been identified so far in TKT transketolase explaining the altered transketolase proteins or transketolase enzyme activities found in neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer. We demonstrate the presence of a second transketolase enzyme (TKTL1) in humans. During the evolution of the vertebrate genome, mutations in this transketolase gene (TKTL1) have led to tissue-specific transcripts different in size, which encode an enzymatically active transketolase protein as well as different smaller protein isoforms. The mutations within the TKTL1 gene caused a mutant transketolase enzyme with an altered substrate specificity and reaction modus. Here we characterize the TKTL1 gene and its encoded TKTL1 protein(s) and discuss the medical and clinical implications of this mutated transketolase. We furthermore postulate a novel metabolic concept for the understanding, prevention and therapy of neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus / metabolism
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / genetics
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Protein Isoforms / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Transketolase / genetics*


  • Protein Isoforms
  • RNA, Messenger
  • TKTL1 protein, human
  • Transketolase
  • Glucose