An important but unresolved question is whether mammalian mitochondria metabolize arginine to agmatine by the ADC (arginine decarboxylase) reaction. 15N-labelled arginine was used as a precursor to address this question and to determine the flux through the ADC reaction in isolated mitochondria obtained from rat liver. In addition, liver perfusion system was used to examine a possible action of insulin, glucagon or cAMP on a flux through the ADC reaction. In mitochondria and liver perfusion, 15N-labelled agmatine was generated from external 15N-labelled arginine. The production of 15N-labelled agmatine was time- and dose-dependent. The time-course of [U-15N4]agmatine formation from 2 mM [U-15N4]arginine was best fitted to a one-phase exponential curve with a production rate of approx. 29 pmol·min−1·(mg of protein)−1. Experiments with an increasing concentration (0– 40 mM) of [guanidino-15N2]arginine showed a Michaelis constant Km for arginine of 46 mM and a Vmax of 3.7 nmol·min−1·(mg of protein)−1 for flux through the ADC reaction. Experiments with broken mitochondria showed little changes in Vmax or Km values, suggesting that mitochondrial arginine uptake had little effect on the observed Vmax or Km values. Experiments with liver perfusion demonstrated that over 95% of the effluent agmatine was derived from perfusate [guanidino-15N2]arginine regardless of the experimental condition. However, the output of 15N-labelled agmatine (nmol·min−1·g−1) increased by approx. 2-fold (P<0.05) in perfusions with cAMP. The findings of the present study provide compelling evidence that mitochondrial ADC is present in the rat liver, and suggest that cAMP may stimulate flux through this pathway.

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