When eukaryotic cells are deprived of amino acids, uncharged tRNAs accumulate and activate the conserved GCN2 protein kinase. Activated Gcn2p up-regulates the general amino acid control pathway through phosphorylation of the translational initiation factor eIF2. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Gcn2p is the only kinase that phosphorylates eIF2 to regulate translation through this mechanism. We addressed changes in yeast growth and tRNA aminoacylation, or charging, during amino acid depletion in the presence and absence of GCN2. tRNA charging was measured using a microarray technique which simultaneously measures all cytosolic tRNAs. A fully prototrophic strain, and its isogenic gcn2Δ counterpart, were used to study depletion for each of the 20 amino acids, with a focus on Trp, Arg, His and Leu, which are metabolically distinct and together provide a good overview on amino acid metabolism.
While the wild-type strain had no observable phenotype upon depletion for any amino acid, the gcn2Δ strain showed slow growth in media devoid of only Trp or Arg. Consistent with the growth phenotypes, profiles of genome-wide tRNA charging revealed significant decrease in cognate tRNA charging only in the gcn2Δ strain upon depletion for Trp or Arg. In contrast, there was no change in tRNA charging during His and Leu depletion in either the wild-type or gcn2Δ strains, consistent with the null effect on growth during loss of these amino acids. We determined that the growth phenotype of Trp depletion is derived from feedback inhibition of aromatic amino acid biosynthesis. By removing Phe and Tyr from the media in addition to Trp, regular growth was restored and tRNATrp charging no longer decreased. The growth phenotype of Arg depletion is derived from unbalanced nitrogen metabolism. By supplementing ornithine upon Arg depletion, both growth and tRNAArg charging were partially restored.
Under mild stress conditions the basal activity of Gcn2p is sufficient to allow for proper adaptation to amino acid depletion. This study highlights the importance of the GCN2 eIF2 kinase pathway for maintaining metabolic homeostasis, contributing to appropriate tRNA charging and growth adaptation in response to culture conditions deficient for the central amino acids, tryptophan and arginine.