Regulation of Gene Expression by Amino Acids in Animal Cells Academic Article uri icon


  • Amino acids have pleiotropic roles in animal biology including protein and glucose synthesis, cellular metabolism, antioxidant reactions, immune enhancers, and inducers or suppressors of gene expression. Recent studies have revealed important roles of amino acids in the regulation of gene expression in animals. Discoveries of cellular amino acid sensors and their mechanistic pathways have broadened our understanding of how the body responds to the deprivation of nutrients and amino acids in particular. Alterations in concentrations of extracellular amino acids can modulate transcription, translation, posttranscriptional modifications, and epigenetic regulation of genes and proteins. Cells have intracellular amino acid sensors, for example, Sestrin2 for leucine and CASTOR2 for arginine, that respond to sufficiency or deficiency in amino acids, thereby inhibiting or activating downstream signals for gene expression, respectively. The sufficiency of an amino acid in cells ensures its binding to cognate sensors and suppression of inhibitors of MTOR, leading to increased global protein synthesis. On the other hand, deprivation of amino acids activates the amino acid response pathway (GCN2-eIF2a-ATF4), leading to increased selective translation of the activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4). Deficiency of an amino acid itself or via the action of ATF4 suppression of MTORC1 activity limits global protein synthesis. ATF4, in response to low concentrations of cellular amino acids, mediates the transcription of groups of genes such as those for amino acid transport and biosynthesis (ASNS, CAT-1, SNAT2), autophagy (ATG3, ATG10, ATG12), and serineglycine synthesis (PHGDH, PSAT1, PSPH, MTHFD2). Long-term amino acid starvation has a pronounced effect on cells: suppressed expression and translation of genes required for normal cell growth and metabolism and enhanced expression of genes required for cell adaptation and survival. Levels of amino acids also affect the posttranslational modifications of proteins through mechanisms such as acetylation, ADP-ribosylation, disulfide bond formation, glutamylation, and hydroxylation.

published proceedings

  • Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Sah, N., Wu, G., & Bazer, F. W.

citation count

  • 7

complete list of authors

  • Sah, N||Wu, G||Bazer, FW

editor list (cited editors)

  • Wu, G.

publication date

  • 2021