The polyamines are essential for a variety of functions in the mammalian cell. Although their specific effects have not been fully elucidated, it is clear that the cellular polyamines have to be kept within certain levels for normal cell function. Polyamine homoeostasis in mammalian cells is achieved by a complex network of regulatory mechanisms affecting synthesis and degradation, as well as membrane transport of polyamines. The two key enzymes in the polyamine biosynthetic pathway, ODC (ornithine decarboxylase) and AdoMetDC (S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase), are strongly regulated by feedback mechanisms at several levels, including transcriptional, translational and post-translational. Some of these mechanisms have been shown to be truly unique and include upstream reading frames and ribosomal frameshifting, as well as ubiquitin-independent proteasomal degradation. SSAT (spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase), which is a crucial enzyme for degradation and efflux of polyamines, is also highly regulated by polyamines. A cellular excess of polyamines rapidly induces SSAT, resulting in increased degradation/efflux of the polyamines. The polyamines appear to induce both transcription and translation of the SSAT mRNA. However, the major part of the polyamine-induced increase in SSAT is caused by a marked stabilization of the enzyme against degradation by the 26S proteasome. In addition, active transport of extracellular polyamines into the cell contributes to cellular polyamine homoeostasis. Depletion of cellular polyamines rapidly induces an increased uptake of exogenous polyamines, whereas an excess of polyamines down-regulates the polyamine transporter(s). However, the protein(s) involved in polyamine transport and the exact mechanisms by which the polyamines regulate the transporter(s) are not yet known.

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