How A Single Hormone Plays Two Roles

The trick to performing the two different functions of season sensing or metabolic regulation is glycosylation, researchers say.

AsianScientist (Nov. 6, 2014) – Scientists at the Institute for Transformative Bio-Molecules (ITbM) of Nagoya University and the University of Chicago have discovered the mechanism of how a single hormone manages to trigger two different functions—seasonal sensing and metabolism—without any cross activity. This research has been published in Cell Reports.

Through an extensive national and international collaboration, the team uncovered the mechanism of how thyrotropin—the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which triggers two different functions—manages to avoid functional crosstalk when released into the bloodstream.

TSH is a glycoprotein (a protein that contains carbohydrate) secreted from two parts of the pituitary gland in the brain. Previous studies have shown that TSHs secreted from both regions of the pituitary gland have the same protein structure. TSH has been known for a long time to be a hormone secreted from the front of the pituitary gland (pars distalis or PD) that stimulates the thyroid gland to synthesize and secrete thyroid hormones, which in turn regulates metabolism and growth.

On the other hand, previous work by corresponding author Professor Takashi Yoshimura from ITbM demonstrated the novel function of TSH secreted from the stalk of the pituitary gland (pars tuberalis or PT) that acts on the hypothalamus as a hormone signaling seasonal changes. Up till now, it has been a mystery on how these two TSHs (PD-TSH and PT-TSH) manage to distinctively trigger biologically significant processes without interfering with one another.

The structure of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Credit: ITbM.
The structure of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Credit: ITbM.

“It has been a great mystery on how the activities of TSHs were being differentiated. Initially, it has been suggested that TSHs arising from the pars tuberalis and pars distalis were being regulated differently at each source,” said Prof. Yoshimura.

The present study describes how the same molecule imparts different functions without cross activity through tissue-specific glycosylation (attachment of sugars) and subsequent recognition by the immune system. This new paradigm is expected to be of high significance in the fields of both glycobiology and immunology as well as contribute towards the understanding of diseases related to the synthesis and secretion of TSHs.

“From our investigations on knock-out mice, we found that PD-TSH was being regulated by the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) secreted by the hypothalamus, whereas PT-TSH was not controlled by TRH but was being controlled by a hormone called melatonin, which is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland during the night,” Prof. Yoshimura said.

Upon studying the structures of PT-TSH and PD-TSH by MALDI mass spectrometry analysis, it was discovered that they both shared the same protein structure but had different types of carbohydrate chains attached to them. PD-TSH had sulfated bi-antennary carbohydrate chains, which could be easily metabolized. On the other hand, PT-TSH had sialylated multi-branched carbohydrate chains, which could form stable macro-TSH complexes with immunoglobulin and albumin present in the blood.

“Since starting this research in 2008, we had to revisit our hypotheses many times and finally found that tissue-specific glycosylation occurred in the pars tuberalis and pars distalis of the pituitary gland, which differentiates each of their TSH to prevent cross activity,” explains Prof. Yoshimura.

“Interestingly, the bioactivities of PT-TSH and PD-TSH themselves showed no difference. Meanwhile, PT-TSH loses its bioactivity in the bloodstream by forming stable macro-TSH complexes, and thus, does not act upon the thyroid gland.”

How differential glycosylation helps the immune system distinguish the two forms of TSH. Credit: ITbM.
How differential glycosylation helps the immune system distinguish the two forms of TSH. Credit: ITbM.

Glycosylation, the covalent addition of oligosaccharides to proteins, is a post-translational modification that increases the diversity of the proteome. Although the fundamental importance of glycosylation has been recognized in recent years, its physiological role has remained unclear. This study illustrates the first example of the involvement of tissue-specific glycosylation in preventing functional crosstalk between signaling molecules.

Prof. Yoshimura says, “As the genome is finite, organisms use the same protein to serve multiple functions. Through our studies, we were able to uncover the elegant strategy of the organism, where tissue-specific glycosylation and subsequent immune recognition is used to impart two distinctive functions on a single hormone.”

“We envisage that this new paradigm will be of great significance to researchers in a variety of fields including glycobiology, immunology, endocrinology, physiology, and neuroscience, along with contribution towards agriculture (animal reproduction) and human health.”

The article can be found at: Ikegami et al. (2014) Tissue-Specific Posttranslational Modification Allows Functional Targeting of Thyrotropin.


Source: Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules, Nagoya University.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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