Lysine metabolism in mammalian brain: an update on the importance of recent discoveries

Amino Acids. 2013 Dec;45(6):1249-72. doi: 10.1007/s00726-013-1590-1. Epub 2013 Sep 17.


The lysine catabolism pathway differs in adult mammalian brain from that in extracerebral tissues. The saccharopine pathway is the predominant lysine degradative pathway in extracerebral tissues, whereas the pipecolate pathway predominates in adult brain. The two pathways converge at the level of ∆(1)-piperideine-6-carboxylate (P6C), which is in equilibrium with its open-chain aldehyde form, namely, α-aminoadipate δ-semialdehyde (AAS). A unique feature of the pipecolate pathway is the formation of the cyclic ketimine intermediate ∆(1)-piperideine-2-carboxylate (P2C) and its reduced metabolite L-pipecolate. A cerebral ketimine reductase (KR) has recently been identified that catalyzes the reduction of P2C to L-pipecolate. The discovery that this KR, which is capable of reducing not only P2C but also other cyclic imines, is identical to a previously well-described thyroid hormone-binding protein [μ-crystallin (CRYM)], may hold the key to understanding the biological relevance of the pipecolate pathway and its importance in the brain. The finding that the KR activity of CRYM is strongly inhibited by the thyroid hormone 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine (T3) has far-reaching biomedical and clinical implications. The inter-relationship between tryptophan and lysine catabolic pathways is discussed in the context of shared degradative enzymes and also potential regulation by thyroid hormones. This review traces the discoveries of enzymes involved in lysine metabolism in mammalian brain. However, there still remain unanswered questions as regards the importance of the pipecolate pathway in normal or diseased brain, including the nature of the first step in the pathway and the relationship of the pipecolate pathway to the tryptophan degradation pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biocatalysis
  • Brain / enzymology
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lysine / metabolism*
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors / metabolism
  • mu-Crystallins


  • CRYM protein, human
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-NH Group Donors
  • ketimine reductase
  • mu-Crystallins
  • Lysine