N-Acetylaspartate Metabolism Outside the Brain: Lipogenesis, Histone Acetylation, and Cancer

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N-acetylaspartate (NAA) is a highly abundant brain metabolite. Aberrant NAA concentrations have been detected in many pathological conditions and although the function of NAA has been extensively investigated in the brain it is still controversial. Only recently, a role of NAA has been reported outside the brain. In brown adipocytes, which show high expression of the NAA-producing and the NAA-cleaving enzyme, the metabolism of NAA has been implicated in lipid synthesis and histone acetylation. Increased expression of N-acetyltransferase 8-like (Nat8l, the gene encoding the NAA synthesizing enzyme) induces de novo lipogenesis and the brown adipocyte phenotype. Accordingly silencing of aspartoacylase, the NAA-cleaving enzyme, reduced brown adipocyte differentiation mechanistically by decreasing histone acetylation and gene transcription. Notably, the expression of Nat8l and the amount of NAA were also shown to be increased in several tumors and inversely correlate with patients’ survival. Additionally, Nat8l silencing reduced cell proliferation in tumor and non-tumor cells, while NAA supplementation could rescue it. However, the mechanism behind has not yet been clarified. It remains to be addressed whether NAA per se and/or its catabolism to acetate and aspartate, metabolites that have both been implicated in tumor growth, are valuable targets for future therapies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number240
JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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