Mechanism and regulation of protein degradation in liver

Diabetes Metab Rev. 1989 Feb;5(1):49-70. doi: 10.1002/dmr.5610050105.


The degradation of intracellular protein and other cytoplasmic macromolecules in liver is an ongoing process that regulates cytoplasmic mass and provides amino acids for energy and other metabolic uses early in starvation. Cellular proteins are conveniently divided into two general classes according to readily discernable differences in average rates of turnover. A short-lived class, having a half-life of approximately 10 min, comprises about 0.6% of total protein. Its degradation is not physiologically controlled, and the mechanism is probably nonlysosomal in nature. The second or long-lived group, with an average half-life 250 times greater, constitutes more than 99% of the cell's protein. By contrast, its breakdown is strongly regulated, and the site of catabolism is believed to be the vacuolar-lysosomal system. Cytoplasmic sequestration by lysosomes can be divided into two categories; macro- and microautophagy. The first is induced by amino acid and/or insulin deprivation. Amino acids are considered to be primary regulators, since they can control this process over the full range of induced proteolysis in the absence of hormones. Glucagon, cyclic AMP, and beta-agonists also stimulate macroautophagy in hepatocytes but have opposite effects in myocytes. Micrautophagy differs from the former in that the cytoplasmic "bite" is smaller and the uptake process is not acutely regulated. However, the latter does decrease during starvation in parallel with basal proteolysis, effects that might be linked to the loss of endoplasmic reticulum. The primary control of macroautophagy is accomplished through a small group of direct regulators (Leu, Tyr/Phe, Gln, Pro, Met, His, and Trp) and a specific coregulatory action of alanine. As a group, regulatory amino acids produce direct inhibitory responses in the perfused rat liver that are identical to those of the complete amino acid mixture at 0.5x and 4x (times) normal plasma concentrations. However, they lose effectiveness almost completely within a narrow zone centered at normal levels, a loss that can be abolished by the addition of alanine at its normal plasma concentration (0.5 mM). At this level, alanine does not inhibit directly. Interestingly, this zonal loss is also eliminated by insulin. Glucagon, though, specifically blocks the initial inhibition evoked by 0.5x amino acid mixtures and thus induces maximal rates of protein degradation at normal amino acid concentrations.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Homeostasis*
  • Hormones / physiology
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Proteins / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids
  • Hormones
  • Proteins