Life-threatening hyperammonemia occurs in both inherited and acquired liver diseases affecting ureagenesis, the main pathway for detoxification of neurotoxic ammonia in mammals. Protein O-GlcNAcylation is a reversible and nutrient-sensitive post-translational modification using as substrate UDP-GlcNAc, the end-product of hexosamine biosynthesis pathway. Here we show that increased liver UDP-GlcNAc during hyperammonemia increases protein O-GlcNAcylation and enhances ureagenesis. Mechanistically, O-GlcNAcylation on specific threonine residues increased the catalytic efficiency for ammonia of carbamoyl phosphate synthetase 1 (CPS1), the rate-limiting enzyme in ureagenesis. Pharmacological inhibition of O-GlcNAcase, the enzyme removing O-GlcNAc from proteins, resulted in clinically relevant reductions of systemic ammonia in both genetic (hypomorphic mouse model of propionic acidemia) and acquired (thioacetamide-induced acute liver failure) mouse models of liver diseases. In conclusion, by fine-tuned control of ammonia entry into ureagenesis, hepatic O-GlcNAcylation of CPS1 increases ammonia detoxification and is a novel target for therapy of hyperammonemia in both genetic and acquired diseases.
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