Glycogen Metabolism

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Stores of readily available glucose to supply the tissues with an oxidizable energy source are found principally in the liver, as glycogen. Glycogen is a polymer of glucose residues linked by α-(1,4)- and α-(1,6)-glycosidic bonds. A second major source of stored glucose is the glycogen of skeletal muscle. However, muscle glycogen is not generally available to other tissues, because muscle lacks the enzyme glucose-6-phosphatase.

Structure of glycogen

Glycogen Structure. Section of a glycogen polymer depicting glucose monomers as colored balls. The blue balls represent glucose linked by α1,4 glycosidic bonds. The red balls represent glucose at branch points where there are both α1,4 and α1,6 glycosidic bonds. The orange balls represent the reducing ends of the polymeric chains of α1,4-linked glucoses. The area in the box is expanded to show the actual structure of the glucose monomers in both α-1,4- and α-1,6 glycosidic linkages.

The major site of daily glucose consumption (75%) is the brain via aerobic pathways. Most of the remainder of is utilized by erythrocytes, skeletal muscle, and heart muscle. The body obtains glucose either directly from the diet or from amino acids and lactate via gluconeogenesis. Glucose obtained from these two primary sources either remains soluble in the body fluids or is stored in a polymeric form, glycogen. Glycogen is considered the principal storage form of glucose and is found mainly in liver and muscle, with kidney and intestines adding minor storage sites. With up to 10% of its weight as glycogen, the liver has the highest specific content of any body tissue. Muscle has a much lower amount of glycogen per unit mass of tissue, but since the total mass of muscle is so much greater than that of liver, total glycogen stored in muscle is about twice that of liver. Stores of glycogen in the liver are considered the main buffer of blood glucose levels.

Glycogen homeostasis involves the concerted regulation of the rate of glycogen synthesis (glycogenesis) and the rate of glycogen breakdown (glycogenolysis). Theses two processes are reciprocally regulated such that hormones that stimulate glycogenolysis (e.g. glucagon, cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine) simultaneously inhibit glycogenesis. Conversely, insulin, which directs the body to store excess carbon for future use, stimulates glycogenesis while simultaneously inhibiting glycogenolysis.

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Glucose Removal

Degradation of stored glycogen, termed glycogenolysis, occurs through the action of glycogen phosphorylase. There are three distinct human genes encoding proteins with glycogen phosphorylase activity. One gene (PYGL) expresses the hepatic form of the enzyme, a second (PYGM) expresses the muscle form, and the third (PYGB) expresses the brain form. The PYGM gene is located on chromosome 11q12–q13.2 and is composed of 20 exons that generate two splice variant mRNAs. The two different PYGM proteins that result are referred to as isoform 1 (842 amino acids) and isoform 2 (754 amino acids). The PYGL gene is located on chromosome 14q21–q22 and, like the PYGM gene, is composed of 20 exons that generate two splice variant mRNAs. The two different PYGL proteins that result are referred to as isoform 1 (872 amino acids) and isoform 2 (813 amino acids). The PYGB gene is located on chromosome 20p11.21 and is also composed of 20 exons that encode a protein of 843 amino acids. Although preferentially expressed in the brain, low level expression of the PYGB gene is seen in adult liver and skeletal muscle. The functions and regulation of these gene products are identical but defects in one or the other explain the tissue-specific nature of several of the glycogen storage diseases discussed below.

The action of phosphorylase is to phosphorolytically remove single glucose residues from α-(1,4)-linkages within the glycogen molecules. The product of this reaction is glucose-1-phosphate. The advantage of the reaction proceeding through a phosphorolytic step is that:

1. The glucose is removed from glycogen is an activated state, i.e. phosphorylated and this occurs without ATP hydrolysis.

2. The concentration of Pi in the cell is high enough to drive the equilibrium of the reaction in the favorable direction since the free energy change of the standard state reaction is positive.

Reaction catalyzed by glycogen phosphorylase

Phosphorylase reaction

The glucose-1-phosphate produced by the action of phosphorylase is converted to glucose-6-phosphate by phosphoglucomutase (phosphohexose mutase): this enzyme, like phosphoglycerate mutase of glycolysis, contains a phosphorylated amino acid in the active site (in the case of phosphoglucomutase it is a Ser residue). The enzyme phosphate is transferred to C-6 of glucose-1-phosphate generating glucose-1,6-bisphosphate as an intermediate. The phosphate on C-1 is then transferred to the enzyme regenerating active enzyme and glucose-6-phosphate is the released product. There are four different phosphoglucomutase genes in humans identified as PGM1, PGM2, PGM3, and PGM5. The protein encoded by the PGM5 gene is called phosphoglucomutase-like protein 5. The PGM1 gene is expressed in most tissues, whereas PGM2 expression predominates in red blood cells. The PGM1 gene is located on chromsome 1p31 and is composed of 13 exons that generate three alternatively spliced mRNAs and three isoforms of this enzyme. Mutations in the PGM1 gene are associated with the congenital disorder of glycosylation, CDG1T (once referred to as glycogen storage disease type 14, GSD14). The PGM2 gene is located on chromosome 4p14 and is composed of 15 exons that encode a protein of 612 amino acids. The PGM3 gene is located on chromosome 6q14.1-q15 and is composed of 19 exons that generate three alternatively spliced mRNA and three isoforms of this enzyme. The PGM5 gene is located on chromosome 9q13 and is composed of 14 exons that encode a protein of 567 amino acids.

As mentioned above the phosphorylase mediated release of glucose from glycogen yields a charged glucose residue without the need for hydrolysis of ATP. An additional necessity of releasing phosphorylated glucose from glycogen ensures that the glucose residues do not freely diffuse from the cell. In the case of muscle cells this is acutely apparent since the purpose in glycogenolysis in muscle cells is to generate substrate for glycolysis.

The conversion of glucose-6-phosphate to glucose, which occurs in the liver, kidney and intestine, by the action of glucose-6-phosphatase does not occur in skeletal muscle as these cells lack this enzyme. Therefore, any glucose released from glycogen stores of muscle will be oxidized in the glycolytic pathway. In the liver the action of glucose-6-phosphatase allows glycogenolysis to generate free glucose for maintaining blood glucose levels.

Glycogen Debranching

Glycogen phosphorylase cannot remove glucose residues from the branch points (α-1,6 linkages) in glycogen. The activity of phosphorylase ceases approximately four glucose residues from the branch point. The removal of the these branch point glucose residues requires the action of glycogen debranching enzyme (GDE). The official name of GDE is amylo-1,6-glucosidase, 4-α-glucanotransferase (gene symbol: AGL) which contains 2 activities: glucotransferase and glucosidase. The AGL gene is located on chromosome 1p21 and is composed of 36 exons that generate three alternative spliced isoforms of the enzyme. Isoform 1 contains 1532 amino acids, isoform 2 contains 1515 amino acids, and isoform 3 contains 1516 amino acids.

The transferase activity of debranching enzyme removes the terminal three glucose residues of one branch and attaches them to a free C-4 end of a second branch. The glucose in α-(1,6)-linkage at the branch is then removed by the action of glucosidase. This glucose residue is uncharged since the glucosidase-catalyzed reaction is not phosphorylytic. This means that theoretically glycogenolysis occurring in skeletal muscle could generate free glucose which could enter the blood stream. However, the activity of hexokinase in muscle is so high that any free glucose is immediately phosphorylated and enters the glycolytic pathway. Indeed, the precise reason for the temporary appearance of the free glucose from glycogen is the need of the skeletal muscle cell to generate energy from glucose oxidation, thereby, precluding any chance of the glucose entering the blood.

Diagrammatic representation of glycogen debranching

Glycogen debranching activity

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Glycogen Synthesis

For de novo glycogen synthesis to proceed the first glucose residue is attached to a protein known as glycogenin. Glycogenin has the unusual property of catalyzing its own glycosylation, attaching C-1 of a UDP-glucose to a tyrosine residue on the enzyme. The attached glucose then serves as the primer required by glycogen synthase to attach additional glucose molecules via the mechanism described below. There are two glycogenin genes in humans identified as GYG1 and GYG2. The GYG1 gene is located on chromosome 3q24–q25.1 and is composed of 8 exons that generate three splice variant mRNAs. These three mRNAs produce three glycogenin-1 isoforms identified as isoform 1 (350 amino acids), isoform 2 (333 amino acids), and isoform 3 (279 amino acids). The GYG1 gene is predominantly expressed in muscle but is also expressed in many other tissues as well. Mutations in the GYG1 gene are associated with the recently (2010) characterized glycogen storage disease identified as type 15 (GSD15). The GYG2 gene is located on chromosome Xp22.3 and is composed of 14 exons that generate multiple splice variant mRNAs leading to the generation of multiple glycogenin-2 isoforms. The GYG2 gene is predominantly expressed in the liver.

Synthesis of glycogen from glucose is carried out by the enzyme glycogen synthase (GS). This enzyme utilizes UDP-glucose as one substrate and the non-reducing end of glycogen as another. The activation of glucose to be used for glycogen synthesis is carried out by the enzyme UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase 2. This enzyme exchanges the phosphate on C-1 of glucose-1-phosphate for UDP. The energy of the phospho-glycosyl bond of UDP-glucose is utilized by glycogen synthase to catalyze the incorporation of glucose into glycogen. UDP is subsequently released from the enzyme. The human UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase 2 enzyme is encoded by the UGP2 gene that is located on chromosome 2p14–p13 and is composed of 13 exons that generate two alternatively spliced mRNAs. These two mRNAs encode two different isoforms of the enzyme, isoform a (508 amino acids) and isoform b (497 amino acids).

There are two distinct glycogen synthase enzymes in humans. One is expressed in skeletal muscle, the other in the liver. The muscle enzyme is encoded by the GYS1 gene and the liver enzyme is encoded by the GYS2 gene. The GYS1 gene is located on chromosome 19q13.3 and is composed of 16 exons that produce two splice variant mRNAs encoding two isoforms of the muscle enzyme. Isoform 1 is composed of 737 amino acids and isoform 2 is composed of 673 amino acids. The GYS2 gene is located on chromosome 12p12.2 and is composed of 20 exons that produce a protein of 703 amino acids.

Reaction catalyzed by glycogen synthase

Reactions of the addition of glucose to glycogen: Beginning with free glucose, several reactions are required to initiate and then produce glycogen polymers. Glucose is first phosphorylated by hexokinases or glucokinase to glucose-6-phosphate (G6P). G6P is then converted to glucose-1-phosphate (G1P) via the action of phosphoglucomutase (PGM). G1P is then "activated" for glycogen synthesis via the addition of uridine nucleotide catalyzed by UDP-glucose pyrophosphorylase 2 (UGP2). The resultant UDP-glucose can then be use as a substrate for the self-glucosylating reaction of glycogenin, or if pre-exisiting glycogen polymers exist, the UDP-glucose is utilized as the substrate for glycogen synthase.

Glycogen Branching

The α-1,6 branches in glucose are produced by amylo-(1,4 to 1,6)-transglucosidase, also termed the glycogen branching enzyme (gene symbol: GBE1). This enzyme transfers a terminal fragment of 6-7 glucose residues (from a polymer at least 11 glucose residues long) to an internal glucose residue at the C-6 hydroxyl position. The GBE1 gene is located on chromosome 3p12.3 and is composed of 16 exons that encode a protein of 702 amino acids.

Diagrammatic representation of glycogen branching

Glycogen branching activity

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Regulation of Glycogen Catabolism

Functional glycogen phosphorylase is a homodimeric enzyme that exist in two distinct conformational states: a T (for tense, less active) and R (for relaxed, more active) state. Phosphorylase is capable of binding to glycogen when the enzyme is in the R state. This conformation is enhanced by binding of AMP (allosteric activator) and inhibited by binding of ATP or glucose-6-phosphate (allosteric inhibitors). The enzyme is also subject to covalent modification by phosphorylation as a means of regulating its activity. The relative activity of the unmodified phosphorylase enzyme (given the name phosphorylase b) is sufficient to generate enough glucose-1-phosphate, for entry into glycolysis, for the production of sufficient ATP to maintain the normal resting activity of the cell. This is true in both liver and muscle cells.

Regulation of glycogen phosphorylase

Pathways involved in the regulation of glycogen phosphorylase. See the text for details of the regulatory mechanisms. PKA is cAMP-dependent protein kinase, PHK is phosphorylase kinase. Green arrows denote positive effects on any enzyme. Red T-lines indicate inhibitory actions. Briefly, phosphorylase b (the less active form) is phosphorylated, and rendered highly active, by PHK (also known as glycogen synthase-glycogen phosphorylase kinase, GS/GP kinase). Phosphorylase kinase is itself phosphorylated, leading to increased activity, by PKA (itself activated through receptor-mediated mechanisms). PKA also phosphorylates the PPP1R3A encoded protein (also called PTG for protein targeting glycogen) that serves as a regulatory subunit of the PP1 enzyme. PKA-mediated phosphorylation of PTG results in the dissociation of the catalytic PP1 activity, the consequences of which are inhibition of phosphate removal allowing the activated enzymes to remain so for a longer time frame. Calcium ions can activate phosphorylase kinase even in the absence of the enzyme being phosphorylated. This allows, as an example, neuromuscular stimulation by acetylcholine to lead to increased glycogenolysis in the absence of G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) stimulation. It is also important to note that although this Figure only shows the regulatin of glycogen phosphorylase, all of the enzymes of glycogen breakdown and glycogen synthesis (discussed below) are associated in a large complex allowing for their rapid regulation.

In response to lowered blood glucose the α cells of the pancreas secrete glucagon which binds to cell surface receptors that are predominantly found on hepatocytes. Glucagon receptors are only found on one other cell type, white adipocytes, but at significantly lower levels than those seen on heptocytes. Because of this distribution of receptors, it is easy to understand why liver cells are the primary target for the action of glucagon. The glucagon receptor is a Gα-coupled GPCR. The response of cells to the binding of glucagon to its cell surface receptor is, therefore, the activation of the enzyme adenylate cyclase. Activation of adenylate cyclase leads to a large increase in the formation of cAMP which then binds to, and activates the enzyme cAMP-dependent protein kinase, PKA (see Figure below). Binding of cAMP to the regulatory subunits of PKA leads to the release and subsequent activation of the catalytic subunits. The catalytic subunits then phosphorylate a number of proteins on serine and threonine residues.

Glucagon-mediated regulation of PKA activity

Representative pathway for the activation of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA). In this example glucagon binds to its cell-surface receptor, thereby activating the receptor. Activation of the receptor is coupled to the activation of the receptor-coupled heterotrimeric G-protein (GTP-binding and hydrolyzing protein). Upon activation, the α subunit dissociates from the βγ subunits and binds to and activates adenylate cyclase. Adenylate cyclase then converts ATP to cyclic-AMP (cAMP). The cAMP thus produced then binds to the regulatory subunits of PKA leading to dissociation of the associated catalytic subunits. The catalytic subunits are inactive until dissociated from the regulatory subunits. Once released the catalytic subunits of PKA phosphorylate numerous substrate using ATP as the phosphate donor.

Of significance to this discussion is the PKA-mediated phosphorylation of phosphorylase kinase (PHK) as shown in the diagram above (abbreviated GS/GP kinase for glycogen synthase-glycogen phosphorylase kinase). There are two isoforms of phosphorylase kinase, one expressed in skeletal muscle and the other expressed in the liver. Both isoforms of phosphorylase kinase are multi-subunit (hexadecameric) enzymes composed of four copies of each of the unique subunits: α, β, γ, and δ. The difference between the skeletal muscle (as well as heart) and liver isoforms is the result of two distinct α proteins and two distinct γ proteins, each of which are encoded by different genes. The α and β subunits are the regulatory subunits that are phosphorylated. The γ subunit is the catalytic subunit. The δ subunit is calmodulin (described below) which can be encoded for by one of three calmodulin genes; CALM1, CALM2, CALM3. Phosphorylation of phosphorylase kinase activates the enzyme which in turn phosphorylates the less active b form of phosphorylase. Phosphorylation of phosphorylase b greatly enhances its activity towards glycogen breakdown. The modified enzyme is called phosphorylase a. The net result is an extremely large induction of glycogen breakdown in response to glucagon binding to cell surface receptors.

The two different α subunits are encoded by the PHKA1 (muscle) and PHKA2 (liver) genes. The PHKA1 gene is located on chromosome Xq12–q13 and is composed of 32 exons that encode a protein of 1210 amino acids. The PHKA2 gene is located on chromosome Xp22.2–p22.1 and is composed of 33 exons that encode a protein of 1235 amino acids. The two different γ subunits are encoded by the PHKG1 (muscle) and PHKG2 (liver) genes. The PHKG1 gene is located on chromosome 7p11.2 and is composed of 11 exons that encode a protein of 419 amino acids. The PHKG2 gene is located on chromosome 16p11.2 and is composed of 11 exons that encode a protein of 406 amino acids. The common β subunit is encoded by the PHKB gene which is located on chromosome 16q12-q13 and is composed of 33 exons. Due to alternative splicing there are two isoforms of the β subunit identified as isoform a (1093 amino acids) and isoform b (1086 amino acids).

Mutations in the PHKA2 gene result in the X-linked liver glycogen storage diseases identified as types 9a1 and 9a2 (GSD9A1 and GSD9A2). Mutations in the PHKB gene result in the autosomal recessive liver and muscle glycogen storage disease identified as type 9B (GSD9B). Mutations in the PHKG2 gene cause the hepatic glycogen storage disease identified as type 9C (GSD9C). Mutations in the PHKA1 gene cause the X-linked muscle glycogen storage disease identified as type 9D (GSD9D). The various Glycogen Storage diseases are listed in the Table at the end of this page.

This identical cascade of events occurs in skeletal muscle cells as well. However, in these cells the induction of the cascade is the result of epinephrine binding to receptors on the surface of muscle cells or as a result of acetylcholine binding nicotinic acetylcholine receptors at a neuromuscular junction. Epinephrine is released from the adrenal glands in response to neural signals indicating an immediate need for enhanced glucose utilization in muscle, the so called fight-or-flight response. Muscle cells lack glucagon receptors and therefore, do not respond in any way to pancreatic effects of low blood glucose. The presence of glucagon receptors on muscle cells would be futile anyway since the role of glucagon release is to increase blood glucose concentrations and muscle glycogen stores cannot contribute to blood glucose levels.

Regulation of phosphorylase kinase activity is also effected by two distinct mechanisms involving Ca2+ ions. The ability of Ca2+ ions to regulate phosphorylase kinase is through the function of one of the subunits of this enzyme, specifically the γ subunit. The γ subunit of phosphorylase kinase is the ubiquitous protein, calmodulin. As indicated above, there are three different calmodulin genes, any one of which can encode the γ subunit of phosphorylase kinase. Calmodulin is a calcium binding protein. Binding of Ca2+ induces a conformational change in calmodulin which in turn enhances the catalytic activity of the phosphorylase kinase towards its substrate, phosphorylase b. This activity is crucial to the enhancement of glycogenolysis in muscle cells where muscle contraction is induced via acetylcholine stimulation at the neuromuscular junction. The effect of acetylcholine release from nerve terminals at a neuromuscular junction is to depolarize the muscle cell leading to increased release of sarcoplasmic reticulum stored Ca2+, thereby activating phosphorylase kinase. Thus, not only does the increased intracellular calcium increase the rate of muscle contraction it increases glycogenolysis which provides the muscle cell with the increased ATP it also needs for contraction.

The second Ca2+ ion-mediated pathway to phosphorylase kinase activation is through activation of α1-adrenergic receptors by epinephrine or norepinephrine.

Regulation of glycogen phosphorylase by α<sub>1</sub>-adrenergic receptor activation

Pathways involved in the regulation of glycogen phosphorylase by epinephrine activation of α1-adrenergic receptors. See the text below for details of the regulatory mechanisms. PLC-β is phospholipase C-β. The substrate for PLC-β is phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) and the products are IP3 (inositol-1,4,5-trisphosphate) and DAG (diacylglycerol). GS-GP kinase is glycogen synthase-glycogen phosphorylase kinase, often just referred to as phosphorylase kinase, PHK. +ve refers to positive effect.

Unlike β-adrenergic receptors which are coupled to activation of adenylate cyclase, α1-adrenergic receptors are coupled through G-proteins (Gq) that activate phospholipase-Cβ (PLCβ). However, it is important to note that α2-adrenergic receptors couple to a Gi-type G-protein and, as a result of ligand binding to this class of receptor, inhibit the activation of adenylate cyclase. Activation of PLCβ leads to increased hydrolysis of membrane phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2), the products of which are inositol-1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) and diacylglycerol (DAG). DAG binds to and activates protein kinase C (PKC), an enzyme that phosphorylates numerous substrates, one of which is glycogen synthase (see below). IP3 binds to one of several receptors on the surface of the endoplasmic reticulum leading to release of stored Ca2+ ions. The Ca2+ ions then interact with the calmodulin subunits of phosphorylase kinase resulting in its activation. Additionally, the Ca2+ ions activate PKC in conjunction with DAG.

Humans express three distinct IP3 receptors encoded by the ITPR1, ITPR2, and ITPR3 genes. The ITPR1 gene which is located on chromosome 3p26.1 and is composed of 63 exons that generate three alternatively spliced mRNAs encoding three distinct isoforms of the receptor. ITPR1 isoform 1 is a 2710 amino acid protein, isoform 2 is a 2695 amino acid protein, and isoform 3 is a 2743 amino acid protein. The ITPR2 gene is located on chromosome 12p11 and is composed of 60 exons that encode a 2701 amino acid protein. The ITPR3 gene is located on chromosome 6p21 and is composed of 61 exons that encode a 2671 amino acid protein. Each of the IP3 receptors possesses a cytoplasmic N-terminal ligand-binding domain and is comprised of six membrane-spanning helices that forms the core of the ion pore.

In order to terminate the activity of the enzymes of the glycogen phosphorylase activation cascade, once the needs of the body are met, the modified enzymes need to be un-modified. In the case of Ca2+ induced activation, the level of Ca2+ ion release from muscle stores will terminate when the incoming nerve impulses cease. The removal of the phosphates on phosphorylase kinase and phosphorylase a is carried out by a family of enzy,es identified as phosphoprotein phosphatase-1 (PP1). Each functional PP1 is a heterodimeric enzyme composed of a catalytic subunit and a regulatory subunit. Humans express three distinct PP1 catalytic subunit genes identified as PPP1CA, PPP1CB, and PPP1CC. There are at least 29 PP1 regulatory subunit genes expressed in the human genome. Several of the regulatory subunits are also involved in targeting of PP1 to glycogen. These regulatory subunits are also commonly referred to as protein targeting to glycogen, PTG (see Figure below). The PTG regulator of the muscle isoform of PP1 is encoded by the protein phosphatase 1, regulatory subunit 3A gene located on chromosome 7q31.1 (gene symbol: PPP1R3A). The muscle PTG protein is also commonly referred to as PP1G. The PTG regulator of the liver form of PP1 is encoded by the PPP1R3B gene located on chromosome 8p23.1. The PPP1R3B encoded protein was the originally identified PTG activity.

In order that the phosphate residues placed on various enzymes by PKA and phosphorylase kinase (PHK) are not immediately removed, the activity of PP1 must also be regulated. Within skeletal muscle this is accomplished through the interaction of PP1 catalytic subunits with the regulatory subunits encoded by the PPP1R3A gene (the PTG protein). Since the protein encoded by this gene inhibits the activity of PP1 it was once called phosphoprotein phosphatase inhibitor 1 (PPI-1) or PP1 inhibitor. The PPP1R3A encoded protein (PTG) is phosphorylated by PKA on Ser65 which causes PP1 to dissociate from the PTG complex, thereby preventing glycogen synthase from being dephosphorylated keeping it in the less active state. Conversely, insulin mediated signaling results in phosphorylation of PTG at Ser46 which results in increased activity of PP1 and a subsequent increase in glycogen synthesis.

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Regulation of Glycogen Synthesis

Glycogen synthase is a tetrameric enzyme consisting of 4 identical subunits. The liver and muscle glycogen synthase proteins are derived from different genes and share only 46% amino acid identity. As indicated above, the liver glycogen synthase is encoded by the GYS2 gene while the muscle form is encoded by the GYS1 gene. Regardless of tissue of expression, the activity of glycogen synthase is regulated by phosphorylation of serine residues in the subunit proteins. Phosphorylation of glycogen synthase reduces its activity towards UDP-glucose. When in the non-phosphorylated state, glycogen synthase does not require glucose-6-phosphate as an allosteric activator, when phosphorylated it does. The two forms of glycogen synthase are identified by the same nomenclature as used for glycogen phosphorylase. The unphosphorylated and most active form is glycogen synthase a and the phosphorylated, glucose-6-phosphate-dependent form is glycogen synthase b.

Numerous kinases have been shown to phosphorylate and regulate both hepatic and muscle forms of glycogen synthase. Most detailed analyses have been carried out using glycogen synthase in isolated hepatocytes. At least five sites of phosphorylation have been identified in hepatic glycogen synthase that are the targets of at least seven kinases. Regulation of glycogen synthase by phosphorylation occurs via both primary and secondary phosphorylation events. The seven kinases that regulate glycogen synthase activity are PKA, PKC, glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3), phosphorylase kinase (PHK; also called glycogen synthase-glycogen phosphorylase, GS-GP kinase), calmodulin-dependent protein kinase 2(CaMPK2), casein kinase 1 (CK1), and casein kinase 2 (CK2). Primary phosphorylation events are initiated by phosphorylase kinase, PKA, PKC, CaMPK2, and CK2. Secondary phosphorylation events are the result of GSK-3 and CK1. When glucagon binds its receptor on hepatocytes the resultant rise in activity of PKA leads to increased phosphorylation of glycogen synthase directly by PKA as well as through the PKA-mediated activation of phosphorylase kinase. In addition, glucagon effects an increase in the activity of CK2. Thus, the net effect of glucagon action on hepatocytes is activation of three distinct kinases that phosphorylate and inhibit glycogen synthase.

Regulation of glycogen synthase

Pathways involved in the regulation of glycogen synthase by various kinases: See the text for details of the regulatory mechanisms. PKA is cAMP-dependent protein kinase. PPI-1 is phosphoprotein phosphatase-1 inhibitor. Green arrows denote positive effects on any indicated enzyme. Red T-lines indicate inhibitory actions. Briefly, glycogen synthase a is phosphorylated, and rendered much less active and requires glucose-6-phosphate to have any activity at all. Phosphorylation of glycogen synthase is accomplished by several different enzymes. The most important is synthase-phosphorylase kinase (GS/GP kinase) the same enzyme responsible for phosphorylation (and activation) of glycogen phosphorylase. PKA (itself activated through receptor mediated mechanisms) also phosphorylates glycogen synthase directly. The effects of PKA on PPI-1 are the same as those described above for the regulation of glycogen phosphorylase. The other enzymes shown to directly phosphorylate glycogen synthase are protein kinase C (PKC), calmodulin-dependent protein kinase 2 (CaMK21), glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3). The enzyme PKC is activated by Ca2+ ions and phospholipids, primarily diacylglycerol, DAG. DAG is formed by receptor-mediated hydrolysis of membrane phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2).

Since insulin and glucagon are counter-regulatory hormones it should be clear that they will exert opposing effects on the rate and level of glycogen synthase phosphorylation. As described above, when glucagon binds its receptor on hepatocytes there is a resultant rise in cAMP and a concomitant increase in the activity of PKA. PKA has been shown to phosphorylate glycogen synthase on at least four different sites. In addition, PKA activity results in an increase in the activity of phosphorylase kinase which in turn phosphorylates glycogen synthase at one of the same sites as PKA. The action of insulin, at the level of PKA, is to increase the activity of phosphodiesterase which hydrolyzes cAMP to AMP thereby reducing the level of active PKA. Insulin also exerts a negative effect on the activity of GSK-3 such that there is a reduced level of phosphorylation of glycogen synthase by this kinase. To see more on the action of insulin at the level of GSK-3 visit the Insulin Action page.

Role of protein targeting to glycogen (PTG) in insulin-mediated regulation of glycogen metabolism

Insulin-mediated effects on glycogen homeostasis: Insulin activates the synthesis of glycogen, while simultaneously inhibiting glycogenolysis, through the concerted effects of several insulin receptor activated pathways. Shown in this Figure are the major insulin-regulated activities and how they can rapidly exert their effects since all the activities are closely associated through interactions with protein targeting to glycogen (PTG). As indicated above PTG is actually a regulatory subunit of the heterotetrameric PP1. There is a muscle-specific PTG (PPP1R3A) and a liver-specific PTG (PPP1R3B). Insulin-mediated signal transduciton results in phosphorylation of PTG on Ser46 which results in enhanced PP1 catalytic activity. Also diagrammed is the response of adipose tissue cells and skeletal muscle cells to insulin at the level of glucose transport into cells via GLUT4 translocation to the plasma membrane. PDK1: PIP3-dependent protein kinase 1. GS/GP kinase: glycogen synthase: gycogen phosphorylase kinase (PHK). PP1: protein phosphatase-1. PDE: phosphodiesterase. Arrows denote either direction of flow or positive effects, red T lines represent inhibitory effects.

Hormones and neurotransmitters that result in release of stored intracellular Ca2+ also lead to negative regulation of glycogen synthase activity. As described above Ca2+ ions bind to the calmodulin subunit of phosphorylase kinase (PHK: calmodulin is a component of many enzymes that are responsive to Ca2+) and result in its activation leading to increased phosphorylation and inhibition of glycogen synthase. When α1-adrenergic receptors are stimulated there is an increase in the activity of PLC-β with a resultant increase in PIP2 hydrolysis. The products of PIP2 hydrolysis are DAG and IP3. As described above for glycogen phoshorylase, DAG, along with the Ca2+ ions released by IP3, activate PKC which phosphorylates and inactivates glycogen synthase. Phosphorylation of glycogen synthase by PKC occurs in the same domain of the enzyme that is one of the target sites for PKA phosphorylation. Additional responses of calcium are the activation of members of the calmodulin-dependent protein kinase family identified as CaMK2 (Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase 2) which also phosphorylates glycogen synthase. Humans express four CaMK2 genes identified as CAMK2A (CaMK2 alpha), CAMK2B (CaMK2 beta), CAMK2D (CaMK2 delta), and CAMK2G (CaMK2 gamma) each of which generate multiple different protein isoforms as a result of alternative mRNA splicing. Glycogen synthase has also been shown to be inhibited by phosphorylation by members of the casein kinase 1 (CK1) and CK2 families of Ser/Thr kinases.

Regulation of glycogen synthase by α<sub>1</sub>-adrenergic receptor activation

Pathways involved in the regulation of glycogen synthase by epinephrine: Epinephrine (or norepinephrine) activation of α1-adrenergic receptors results in the activation of PLCβ. See the text for details of the regulatory mechanisms. PKC is protein kinase C. PLCβ is phospholipase Cβ. The substrate for PLCβ is phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) and the products are IP3 and DAG. +ve refers to positive effects.

The net effects of the various phosphorylations of glycogen synthase result in:

1. decreased affinity of synthase for UDP-glucose.

2. decreased affinity of synthase for glucose-6-phosphate.

3. increased affinity of synthase for ATP and Pi.

Reconversion of glycogen synthase b to glycogen synthase a requires dephosphorylation. This is carried out predominately by the serine/threonine phosphatase described earlier, PP1. This, of course is the same phosphatase involved in the dephosphorylation of glycogen phosphorylase described above. Although another serine/threonine phosphatase, namely protein phosphatase-2A (PP-2A), has been shown to dephosphorylate glycogen synthase in vitro, its role in vivo is significantly less than that of PP1.

The activity of PP1 is also affected by insulin. The pancreatic hormone exerts an opposing effect to that of glucagon and epinephrine. This should appear obvious since the role of insulin is to increase the uptake of glucose from the blood.

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Glycogen Storage Diseases

Since glycogen molecules can become enormously large, an inability to degrade glycogen can cause cells to become pathologically engorged; it can also lead to the functional loss of glycogen as a source of cell energy and as a blood glucose buffer. Although glycogen storage diseases are quite rare, their effects can be most dramatic. The debilitating effect of many glycogen storage diseases depends on the severity of the mutation causing the deficiency. In addition, although the glycogen storage diseases are attributed to specific enzyme deficiencies, other events can cause the same characteristic symptoms. For example, Type 1 glycogen storage disease (von Gierke disease) is attributed to lack of glucose-6-phosphatase. However, the catalytic activity of this enzyme is localized to a domain of the membrane-localized enzyme present in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER); in order to gain access to the phosphatase, glucose-6-phosphate must pass through a specific translocase in the ER membrane (see Figure below). Mutation of either the phosphatase or the translocase makes transfer of liver glycogen to the blood a very limited process. Thus, mutation of either gene leads to symptoms associated with von Gierke disease, which occurs at a rate of about 1 in 200,000 people.

Glucose-6-phosphate transport

Mechanism of glucose-6-phosphate conversion to free glucose. Glucose-6-phosphate is transported from the cytosol into the lume of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) through the actions of the glucose-6-phosphate transporter 1 (G6PT1) which is encoded by the SLC37A4 gene. The removal of phosphate from glucose-6-phosphate is catalyzed by the ER membrane-localized glucose-6-phosphatase encoded by the G6PC gene. Humans express three distinct genes of the glucose-6-phosphatase family identified as G6PC, G6PC2, and G6PC3. The G6PC gene encodes the predominantly expressed functional phosphatase form of the glucose-6-phosphatase. The G6PC gene is located on chromosome 17q21.31 and is composed of 5 exons that encode a 357 amino acid protein. Only three human tissues express the G6PC gene, liver, kidney, and small intestine. Likewise, these are the only tissues that can contribute to endogenous glucose production. Following removal of the phosphate the free glucose is transported out of the ER lumen to the cytosol. Evidence indicates that this glucose transport occurs via GLUT2 (in the liver) as this glucose transporter is transiting the ER to the plasma membrane following its synthesis. The released phosphate (Pi) is transported out of the lumen of the ER to the cytosol by the Na+-phosphate transporter 4 (NPT4) protein encoded by the SLC17A3 gene.

The metabolic consequences of the hepatic glucose-6-phosphate deficiency of von Gierke disease extend well beyond just the obvious hypoglycemia that results from the deficiency in liver being able to deliver free glucose to the blood. The inability to release the phosphate from glucose-6-phopsphate results in diversion into glycolysis and production of pyruvate as well as increased diversion onto the pentose phosphate pathway. The production of excess pyruvate, at levels above of the capacity of the TCA cycle to completely oxidize it, results in its reduction to lactate resulting in lactic acidemia. In addition, some of the pyruvate is transaminated to alanine leading to hyperalaninemia. Some of the pyruvate will be oxidized to acetyl-CoA which can't be fully oxidized in the TCA cycle and so the acetyl-CoA will end up in the cytosol where it will serve as a substrate for triglyceride and cholesterol synthesis resulting in hyperlipidemia. The oxidation of glucose-6-phophate via the pentose phosphate pathway leads to increased production of ribose-5-phosphate which then activates the de novo synthesis of the purine nucleotides. In excess of the need, these purine nucleotides will ultimately be catabolized to uric acid resulting in hyperuricemia and consequent symptoms of gout. The interrelationships of these metabolic pathways is diagrammed in the Figure below.

metabolic pathway disruption in von Gierke disease

Interrelationships of metabolic pathway disruption in von Gierke disease: In the absence of glucose-6-phosphatase activity free glucose cannot be release from the liver contibuting to severe fasting hypoglycemia. In addition the increased glucose-6-phosphate levels lead to increased pentose phosphate pathway (PPP) activity as well as increased glycolysis to pyruvate. The incresased levels of pyruvate lead to increased lactate produciton via lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and alanine via alanine transaminase (ALT). In addition, the increased pyruvate is oxidized via the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDHc) leading to increased production of acetyl-CoA which is, in turn, used for the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol. The excess glycolysis also results in increased production of glycerol-3-phosphate (G3P) from DHAP via the action of glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GPD1). Increased G3P and fatty acids leads to increased triglyceride synthesis which, in conjunction with the increased cholesterol, leads to hyperlipidemia as well as fatty infiltration in hepatocytes contributing to hepatomegaly and cirrhosis.

The glycogen storage diseases are divided into two primary categories: those that result principally from defects in liver glycogen homeostasis and those that represent defects in muscle glycogen homeostasis. The liver glycogen storage diseases result in hepatomegaly and hypoglycemia or cirrhosis, whereas the muscle glycogen storage diseases result in skeletal and cardiac myopathies and/or energy impairment. The most notable muscle glycogen storage disease is Pompe disease (type II GSD) due to it being featured in the recent movie "Extraordinary Measures".

Several glycogenoses are the result of deficiencies in enzymes of glycolysis whose symptoms and signs are similar to those seen in McArdle disease (type V GSD). These include deficiencies in muscle phosphoglycerate kinase and muscle pyruvate kinase as well as deficiencies in fructose 1,6-bisphosphatase, lactate dehydrogenase and phosphoglycerate mutase.

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Table of Glycogen Storage Diseases

Type: Name Enzyme Affected Gene Primary Organ Manifestations
GSD0A liver isozyme of glycogen synthase GYS2 liver hypoglycemia, early death, hyperketonia, low blood lactate and alanine
von Gierke
glucose-6-phosphatase G6PC liver hepatomegaly, severe fasting hypoglycemia, hyperlipidemia, hyperuricemia, kidney failure (Fanconi syndrome), thrombocyte dysfunction
GSD1b microsomal glucose-6-phosphate transporter (G6PT1): this protein is a member of the solute carrier protein family and the gene is identified as SLC37A4 SLC37A4 liver like 1a, but also associated with neutropenia and increased susceptibility to bacterial infections
lysosomal acid α-glucosidase
also called acid maltase
GAA skeletal and cardiac muscle infantile form = death by 2
juvenile form = myopathy
adult form = muscular dystrophy-like
Cori or Forbes
glycogen debranching enzyme AGL liver, skeletal and cardiac muscle infant hepatomegaly, myopathy
glycogen branching enzyme GBE1 liver, muscle infantile hypotonia, hepatosplenomegaly, cirrhosis
muscle phosphorylase PYGM skeletal muscle excercise-induced cramps and pain, myoglobinuria
GSD6: Hers liver phosphorylase PYGL liver hepatomegaly, mild fasting hypoglycemia, hyperlipidemia and ketosis, improvement with age
GSD7: Tarui muscle-specific subunit of PFK-1 PKFM muscle, RBC like V, also hemolytic anemia
GSD9A1/A2 α subunit of hepatic phosphorylase kinase PHKA2 liver mildest form of GSD, hepatomegaly, growth retardation, elevated plasma AST and ALT, hypercholesterolemia, hypertriglyceridemia, fasting hyperketosis
GSD9B common β subunit of phosphorylase kinase PHKB liver and muscle marked heptomegaly in early childhood, fasting hypoglycemia
GSD9C γ subunit hepatic phosphorylase kinase PHKG2 liver increased glycogen in muscle as well as liver, hepatosplenomegaly, short stature, hypoglycemia, muscle weakness
GSD9D α subunit muscle phosphorylase kinase PHKA1 muscle nighttime muscle cramping in childhood, late-onset exercise-induced muscle fatigue and cramping
GSD10 phosphoglycerate mutase PGAM2 muscle exercise-induced cramps, occasional myoglobinuria, exercise intolerance
GSD11 muscle-specific subunit of lactate dehydrogenase LDHA muscle exercise-induced myoglobinuria, easily fatigued
Fanconi-Bickel (hepatorenal glycogenosis with renal Fanconi syndrome); was referred to as GSD11 but term no longer valid for this disease glucose transporter-2 (GLUT-2) SLC2A2 liver is a GSD secondarily related to nonfunctional glucose transport; failure to thrive, hepatomegaly, rickets, proximal renal tubular dysfunction; also associated with a form of permanent neonatal diabetes mellitus
GSD12 aldolase A ALDOA liver, RBC hepatosplenomegaly, non-spherocytic hemolytic anemia
GSD13 muscle predominant form of enolase: β-enolase ENO3 muscle myalgia, exercise intolerance
CDG1T (once called GSD14) predominant form of phosphoglucomutase PGM1 multiple affected tissues this disease is a type 1 congenital disorder of glycosylation; associated with cleft lip, bifid uvula, short stature, hepatomegaly, hypoglycemia, exercise intolerance
GSD15 muscle predominant form of glycogenin GYG1 muscle muscle weakness, glycogen accumulation in heart, cardiac arrhythmias

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