1. The aim of this study was to determine the pattern of protein carboxymethylation in different regions of the human brain.
2. The availability of protein methylation sites was determined by measurement of the incorporation of methyl-3H groups into proteins isolated from postmortem brain tissue. The stability of protein carboxymethylation in post-mortem brain was determined by sampling post-mortem pig and human brain tissue at intervals during the first 24 h after death. This method has previously been used to demonstrate that decreased protein carboxymethylation occurred in post-mortem pig brain when methionine synthase was inhibited.
3. There were no significant differences in the protein carboxymethyltransferase activity in samples of pig brain obtained at the time of death compared with that obtained when the same tissue was maintained at room temperature for up to 24 h after death. Similarly, there were no significant differences in the protein carboxymethyltransferase activity in samples isolated from human brain 12 h after death compared with that obtained from the same human brain tissue maintained at room temperature for up to 24 h after death. These results suggest that the level of carboxymethylation of proteins from human post-mortem brain obtained within 24 h of death is not significantly different to the level present at the time of death. To characterize the distribution of protein carboxymethylation in human brain, nine regions of post-mortem brain were sampled from 16 human subjects. Protein carboxymethyltransferase activity was lowest in the cerebellum (P < 0.05) and highest in cortical white matter compared with other regions of the brain (P < 0.05). No significant differences in protein carboxymethyltransferase activity were noted between other regions of the cortex or the subcortical regions.
4. In human cortical white matter there are more available sites for protein carboxymethylation than other brain regions. This may explain the greater sensitivity of white matter to the adverse consequences of hypomethylation associated with vitamin B12 deficiency. Post-mortem brain tissue can serve as a tool for the study of physiological or pathological factors which influence human brain protein methylation in vivo.