Conditions were defined for maintaining optimal protein synthetic activity in suspensions of freshly isolated rat hepatocytes. Under these conditions, isolated hepatocytes exhibited rates of protein synthesis and levels of polysomal aggregation equivalent to those observed in vivo and in perfused liver. Deprivation of total amino acids or single, essential amino acids resulted in a rapid decrease in the rate of protein synthesis, which was readily reversed by readdition of the deficient amino acid(s). The decrease was accompanied by a disaggregation of polysomes and an inhibition of 43S initiation complex formation, which was indicative of a limitation in the rate of initiation of protein synthesis. Extracts prepared from perfused liver deprived of amino acids were inhibitory to initiation of protein synthesis in reticulocyte lysate. The inhibition in reticulocyte lysate was accompanied by an increase in phosphorylation of the alpha-subunit of eukaryotic initiation factor 2 (eIF-2), suggesting activation of an eIF-2 alpha kinase or inhibition of a phosphatase in amino acid-deprived hepatocytes. This suggestion was confirmed by prelabeling hepatocytes with 32Pi before amino acid deprivation. Incorporation of 32Pi into eIF-2 alpha was two- to threefold higher in lysine-deprived cells than in hepatocytes incubated in fully supplemented medium. Overall, the results indicated that an increase in eIF-2 alpha phosphorylation was responsible for the defect in initiation of protein synthesis caused by amino acid deprivation.
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