Molecular identification and characterisation of the glycine transporter (GLYT1) and the glutamine/glutamate transporter (ASCT2) in the rat lens

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Abstract

Glutathione (GSH) is an essential antioxidant required for the maintenance of lens transparency. In the lens, GSH is maintained at unusually high concentrations as a result of direct GSH uptake and/or intracellular de novo synthesis from its precursor amino acids; cysteine, glycine and glutamine/glutamate. With increasing age, the levels of GSH, particularly in the core of the lens, are significantly reduced. It has been proposed that alterations in the transport of GSH and/or its precursor amino acids may contribute to the changes in GSH levels in older lenses. As considerable uncertainty exists about the molecular identity of GSH transporters in the lens, we have focused on identifying transporters involved in the uptake of the precursor amino acids required for GSH synthesis. Previously, we identified an uptake system for cyst(e)ine mediated by the Xc− exchanger and the Excitatory Amino Acid Transporters (EAATs) in the rat lens. In this current study, we have identified and localised additional uptake systems that contribute to GSH synthesis. Transcripts for GLYT1 (glycine transporter) and ASCT2 (glutamine/glutamate transporter) were detected in rat lens fiber cells using the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Western blot analysis confirmed the expression of both GLYT1 and ASCT2 at the protein level. Immunocytochemistry revealed GLYT1 expression to be restricted to cortical regions of the lens. Labelling was predominantly cytoplasmic with some labelling of the membrane. In contrast, ASCT2 was expressed throughout the lens extending from the outer cortex through to the core. In the outer cortex, ASCT2 expression was predominantly cytoplasmic. However, with deeper distance into the lens, labelling became more membraneous indicating insertion of ASCT2 into the membranes of mature fiber cells of the lens core. The molecular identification and localisation of GLYT1 and ASCT2 in the lens suggests that these transporters may be responsible for the uptake of the precursor amino acids, glycine and glutamine, which are involved in GSH synthesis. Moreover, the presence of ASCT2 in the centre of the lens raises the possibility that ASCT2 may work with the Xc− exchanger to accumulate cysteine where it can potentially act as a low molecular mass antioxidant.

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