Phenylketonuria (PKU) is characterized by a high concentration of phenylalanine, which can lead to mental retardation. One of the characteristic pathologic changes in untreated phenylketonuria patients is a reduction in the number of axons, dendrites, and synapses in the brain. This is thought to be due to the toxic effects of phenylalanine and/or its metabolites, however, the underlying mechanism remains unclear. In this study, we observed that phenylalanine reduced the number of dendrites and dendritic spines in cultured neurons. We further demonstrated that phenylalanine down-regulated Rac1, Cdc42, and RhoA mRNA and protein expression. Pull-down assays indicated that phenylalanine caused a decrease in Rac1/Cdc42 activity but increased RhoA activity. Expression of a dominant negative RhoA or treatment with a Rho-associated kinase specific inhibitor, Y-27632, partly inhibited the phenylalanine-induced decrease in dendrite numbers. In conclusion, we have demonstrated that phenylalanine affects the expression and activity of Rac1, Cdc42, and RhoA. Furthermore, RhoA signaling is involved in the inhibitory effect of phenylalanine on dendritic branching. These results may provide an important insight into the molecular mechanism underlying phenylalanine-induced abnormalities of dendrites, specifically in phenylketonuria neuronal injury.
Zhang, Yongjun; Zhang, Huiwen; Yuan, Xiaobing; Gu, Xuefan.Differential effects of phenylalanine on Rac1, Cdc42, and RhoA expression and activity in cultured cortical neurons,PEDIATRIC RESEARCH,2007,62(1):41134