Impaired glucose metabolism in Down's syndrome (DS) has been well-documented in vivo, although information on the underlying biochemical defect is limited and no biochemical studies on glucose handling enzymes have been carried out in the brain. Through gene hunting in fetal DS brain we found an overexpressed sequence homologous to the phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK) gene. This finding was studied further by investigating the activity levels of this key enzyme of carbohydrate metabolism in the brains of patients with DS. PGK activity was determined in five brain regions of nine patients with DS, nine patients with Alzheimer's disease and 14 controls. PGK activity was significantly elevated in the frontal, occipital and temporal lobe and in the cerebellum of patients with DS. PGK activity in corresponding brain regions of patients with Alzheimer's disease was comparable with controls. We conclude that our findings complement previously published data on impaired brain glucose metabolism in DS evaluated by positron emission tomography in clinical studies. Furthermore, we show that in DS, impaired glucose metabolism, represented by increased PGK activity, is a specific finding rather than a secondary phenomenon simply due to neurodegeneration or atrophy. These observations are also supported by data from subtractive hybridization, showing overexpressed PGK in DS brains at the transcriptional level early in life.

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