Jeffrey M Harmon

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, United States

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Publications (12)56.65 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The relationship between serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT) activity and ORMDL regulation of sphingolipid biosynthesis was investigated in mammalian HEK293 cells. Each of the three human ORMDLs reduced the increase in long-chain base synthesis seen after overexpression of wild-type SPT or SPT containing the C133W mutation in hLCB1, which produces the non-catabolizable sphingoid base, 1-deoxySa. ORMDL-dependent repression of sphingoid base synthesis occurred whether SPT was expressed as individual subunits or as a heterotrimeric single-chain SPT fusion protein. Overexpression of the single-chain SPT fusion protein under the control of a tetracycline-inducible promoter in stably transfected cells resulted in increased endogenous ORMDL expression. This increase was not transcriptional; there was no increase in any of the ORMDL mRNAs. Increased ORMDL protein expression required SPT activity since overexpression of a catalytically inactive SPT with a mutation in hLCB2a had little effect. Significantly, increased ORMDL expression was also blocked by myriocin inhibition of SPT as well as fumonisin inhibition of the ceramide synthases, suggesting that increased expression is a response to a metabolic signal. Moreover, blocking ORMDL induction with fumonisin treatment resulted in significantly greater increases in in vivo SPT activity than was seen when ORMDLs were allowed to increase, demonstrating the physiological significance of this response.
    The Journal of biological chemistry. 11/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: Sphingolipid levels are tightly regulated to maintain cellular homeostasis. During pathologic conditions such as in aging, inflammation, and metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases, levels of some sphingolipids, including the bioactive metabolite ceramide are elevated. Sphingolipid metabolism has been linked to autophagy, a critical catabolic process in both normal cell function and disease; however, the in vivo relevance of the interaction is not well understood. Here we show that blocking autophagy in liver by deletion of the Atg7 gene, which is essential for autophagosome formation, causes an increase in sphingolipid metabolites including ceramide. We also show that overexpression of SPT to elevate de novo sphingolipid biosynthesis induces autophagy in the liver. The results reveal autophagy as a process that limits excessive ceramide levels and that is induced by excessive elevation of de novo sphingolipid synthesis in liver. Dysfunctional autophagy may be an underlying mechanism causing elevations in ceramide that may contribute to pathogenesis in diseases.
    Journal of lipid research. 10/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: The topological and functional organization of the two isoforms of the small subunits of human serine palmitoyltransferase (hssSPTs) that activate the catalytic hLCB1/hLCB2 heterodimer was investigated. A variety of experimental approaches placed the N-termini of the ssSPTs in the cytosol, their C-termini in the lumen, and showed that they contain a single transmembrane domain. Deletion analysis revealed that the ability to activate the heterodimer is contained in a conserved 33-amino acid core domain that has the same membrane topology as the full-length protein. In combination with analysis of isoform chimera and site-directed mutagenesis, a single amino acid residue in this core (M25 in ssSPTa and V25 in ssSPTb) was identified that confers specificity for palmitoyl- or stearoyl-CoA, respectively, in both yeast and mammalian cells. This same residue also determines which isoform is a better activator of a mutant heterodimer, hLCB1S331F/hLCB2a, that has increased basal SPT activity and decreased amino acid substrate selectivity. This suggests that the role of the ssSPTs is to increase SPT activity without compromising substrate specificity. In addition, the observation that the C-terminal domains of ssSPTa and ssSPTb, which are highly conserved within each subfamily but are the most divergent regions between isoform subfamilies, are not required for activation of the heterodimer or for acyl-CoA selectivity suggests that the ssSPTs have additional roles that remain to be discovered.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 02/2013; · 4.65 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (PLP)-dependent enzyme serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT) catalyses the first step of de novo sphingolipid biosynthesis. The core human enzyme is a membrane-bound heterodimer composed of two subunits (hLCB1 and hLCB2a/b), and mutations in both hLCB1 (e.g., C133W and C133Y) and hLCB2a (e.g., V359M, G382V, and I504F) have been identified in patients with hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type I (HSAN1), an inherited disorder that affects sensory and autonomic neurons. These mutations result in substrate promiscuity, leading to formation of neurotoxic deoxysphingolipids found in affected individuals. Here we measure the activities of the hLCB2a mutants in the presence of ssSPTa and ssSPTb and find that all decrease enzyme activity. High resolution structural data of the homodimeric SPT enzyme from the bacterium Sphingomonas paucimobilis (Sp SPT) provides a model to understand the impact of the hLCB2a mutations on the mechanism of SPT. The three human hLCB2a HSAN1 mutations map onto Sp SPT (V246M, G268V, and G385F), and these mutant mimics reveal that the amino acid changes have varying impacts; they perturb the PLP cofactor binding, reduce the affinity for both substrates, decrease the enzyme activity, and, in the most severe case, cause the protein to be expressed in an insoluble form.
    BioMed research international. 01/2013; 2013:194371.
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    ABSTRACT: Sphingolipid synthesis is initiated by condensation of Ser with palmitoyl-CoA producing 3-ketodihydrosphinganine (3-KDS), which is reduced by a 3-KDS reductase to dihydrosphinganine. Ser palmitoyltransferase is essential for plant viability. Arabidopsis thaliana contains two genes (At3g06060/TSC10A and At5g19200/TSC10B) encoding proteins with significant similarity to the yeast 3-KDS reductase, Tsc10p. Heterologous expression in yeast of either Arabidopsis gene restored 3-KDS reductase activity to the yeast tsc10Δ mutant, confirming both as bona fide 3-KDS reductase genes. Consistent with sphingolipids having essential functions in plants, double mutant progeny lacking both genes were not recovered from crosses of single tsc10A and tsc10B mutants. Although the 3-KDS reductase genes are functionally redundant and ubiquitously expressed in Arabidopsis, 3-KDS reductase activity was reduced to 10% of wild-type levels in the loss-of-function tsc10a mutant, leading to an altered sphingolipid profile. This perturbation of sphingolipid biosynthesis in the Arabidopsis tsc10a mutant leads an altered leaf ionome, including increases in Na, K, and Rb and decreases in Mg, Ca, Fe, and Mo. Reciprocal grafting revealed that these changes in the leaf ionome are driven by the root and are associated with increases in root suberin and alterations in Fe homeostasis.
    The Plant Cell 03/2011; 23(3):1061-81. · 9.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The autosomal dominant peripheral sensory neuropathy HSAN1 results from mutations in the LCB1 subunit of serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT). Serum from patients and transgenic mice expressing a disease-causing mutation (C133W) contain elevated levels of 1-deoxysphinganine (1-deoxySa), which presumably arise from inappropriate condensation of alanine with palmitoyl-CoA. Mutant heterodimeric SPT is catalytically inactive. However, mutant heterotrimeric SPT has approximately 10-20% of wild-type activity and supports growth of yeast cells lacking endogenous SPT. In addition, long chain base profiling revealed the synthesis of significantly more 1-deoxySa in yeast and mammalian cells expressing the heterotrimeric mutant enzyme than in cells expressing wild-type enzyme. Wild-type and mutant enzymes had similar affinities for serine. Surprisingly, the enzymes also had similar affinities for alanine, indicating that the major affect of the C133W mutation is to enhance activation of alanine for condensation with the acyl-CoA substrate. In vivo synthesis of 1-deoxySa by the mutant enzyme was proportional to the ratio of alanine to serine in the growth media, suggesting that this ratio can be used to modulate the relative synthesis of sphinganine and 1-deoxySa. By expressing SPT as a single-chain fusion protein to ensure stoichiometric expression of all three subunits, we showed that GADD153, a marker for endoplasmic reticulum stress, was significantly elevated in cells expressing mutant heterotrimers. GADD153 was also elevated in cells treated with 1-deoxySa. Taken together, these data indicate that the HSAN1 mutations perturb the active site of SPT resulting in a gain of function that is responsible for the HSAN1 phenotype.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 07/2010; 285(30):22846-52. · 4.65 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Mutations in the SPTLC1 subunit of serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT) cause an adult-onset, hereditary sensory, and autonomic neuropathy type I (HSAN1). We previously reported that mice bearing a transgene-expressing mutant SPTLC1 (tgSPTLC1(C133W)) show a reduction in SPT activity and hyperpathia at 10 months of age. Now analyzed at a later age, we find these mice develop sensory loss with a distal small fiber neuropathy and peripheral myelinopathy. This phenotype is largely reversed when these mice are crossed with transgenic mice overexpressing wild-type SPTLC1 showing that the mutant SPTLC1 protein is not inherently toxic. Simple loss of SPT activity also cannot account for the HSAN1 phenotype, since heterozygous SPTLC1 knock-out mice have reduced SPT activity but are otherwise normal. Rather, the presence of two newly identified, potentially deleterious deoxysphingoid bases in the tgSPTLC1(C133W), but not in the wild-type, double-transgenic tgSPTLC1(WT + C133W) or SPTLC1(+/-) mice, suggests that the HSAN1 mutations alter amino acid selectivity of the SPT enzyme such that palmitate is condensed with alanine and glycine, in addition to serine. This observation is consistent with the hypothesis that HSAN1 is the result of a gain-of-function mutation in SPTLC1 that leads to accumulation of a toxic metabolite.
    Journal of Neuroscience 11/2009; 29(46):14646-51. · 6.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT) catalyzes the first committed step in sphingolipid biosynthesis. In yeast, SPT is composed of a heterodimer of 2 highly-related subunits, Lcb1p and Lcb2p, and a third subunit, Tsc3p, which increases enzyme activity markedly and is required for growth at elevated temperatures. Higher eukaryotic orthologs of Lcb1p and Lcb2p have been identified, but SPT activity is not highly correlated with coexpression of these subunits and no ortholog of Tsc3p has been identified. Here, we report the discovery of 2 proteins, ssSPTa and ssSPTb, which despite sharing no homology with Tsc3p, each substantially enhance the activity of mammalian SPT expressed in either yeast or mammalian cells and therefore define an evolutionarily conserved family of low molecular weight proteins that confer full enzyme activity. The 2 ssSPT isoforms share a conserved hydrophobic central domain predicted to reside in the membrane, and each interacts with both hLCB1 and hLCB2 as assessed by positive split ubiquitin 2-hybrid analysis. The presence of these small subunits, along with 2 hLCB2 isofoms, suggests that there are 4 distinct human SPT isozymes. When each SPT isozyme was expressed in either yeast or CHO LyB cells lacking endogenous SPT activity, characterization of their in vitro enzymatic activities, and long-chain base (LCB) profiling revealed differences in acyl-CoA preference that offer a potential explanation for the observed diversity of LCB seen in mammalian cells.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 06/2009; 106(20):8186-91. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In yeast, Tsc10p catalyzes reduction of 3-ketosphinganine to dihydrosphingosine. In mammals, it has been proposed that this reaction is catalyzed by FVT1, which despite limited homology and a different predicted topology, can replace Tsc10p in yeast. Silencing of FVT1 revealed a direct correlation between FVT1 levels and reductase activity, showing that FVT1 is the principal 3-ketosphinganine reductase in mammalian cells. Localization and topology studies identified an N-terminal membrane-spanning domain in FVT1 (absent in Tsc10p) oriented to place it in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) lumen. In contrast, protease digestion studies showed that the N terminus of Tsc10p is cytoplasmic. Fusion of the N-terminal domain of FVT1 to green fluorescent protein directed the fusion protein to the ER, demonstrating that it is sufficient for targeting. Although both proteins have two predicted transmembrane domains C-terminal to a cytoplasmic catalytic domain, neither had an identifiable lumenal loop. Nevertheless, both Tsc10p and the residual fragment of FVT1 produced by removal of the N-terminal domain with factor Xa protease behave as integral membrane proteins. In addition to their topological differences, mutation of conserved catalytic residues had different effects on the activities of the two enzymes. Thus, while FVT1 can replace Tsc10p in yeast, there are substantial differences between the two enzymes that may be important for regulation of sphingolipid biosynthesis in higher eukaryotes.
    The Journal of Lipid Research 02/2009; 50(8):1630-40. · 4.39 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The genus Coccolithovirus is a recently discovered group of viruses that infect the globally important marine calcifying microalga Emiliania huxleyi. Surprisingly, the viral genome contains a cluster of putative sphingolipid biosynthetic genes not found in other viral genus. To address the role of these genes in viral pathogenesis, the ehv050 gene predicted to encode a serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT), the first and rate-limiting enzyme of sphingolipid biosynthesis, was expressed and characterized in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We show that the encoded protein is indeed a fully functional, endoplasmic reticulum-localized, single-chain SPT. In eukaryotes SPT is a heterodimer comprised of long chain base 1 (LCB1) and LCB2 subunits. Sequence alignment and mutational analysis showed that the N-terminal domain of the viral protein most closely resembled the LCB2 subunit and the C-terminal domain most closely resembled the LCB1 subunit. Regardless of whether the viral protein was expressed as a single polypeptide or as two independent domains, it exhibited an unusual preference for myristoyl-CoA rather than palmitoyl-CoA. This preference was reflected by the increased presence of C16-sphingoid bases in yeast cells expressing the viral protein. The occurrence of a single-chain SPT suggested to us that it might be possible to create other fusion SPTs with unique properties. Remarkably, when the two subunits of the yeast SPT were thus expressed, the single-chain chimera was functional and displayed a novel substrate preference. This suggests that expression of other multisubunit membrane proteins as single-chain chimera could provide a powerful approach to the characterization of integral membrane proteins.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 01/2007; 281(52):39935-42. · 4.65 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Mutations in enzymes involved in sphingolipid metabolism and trafficking cause a variety of neurological disorders, but details of the molecular pathophysiology remain obscure. SPTLC1 encodes one subunit of serine palmitoyltransferase (SPT), the rate-limiting enzyme in sphingolipid synthesis. Mutations in SPTLC1 cause hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy (type I) (HSAN1), an adult onset, autosomal dominant neuropathy. HSAN1 patients have reduced SPT activity. Expression of mutant SPTLC1 in yeast and mammalian cell cultures dominantly inhibits SPT activity. We created transgenic mouse lines that ubiquitously overexpress either wild-type (SPTLC1(WT)) or mutant SPTLC1 (SPTLC1(C133W)). We report here that SPTLC1(C133W) mice develop age-dependent weight loss and mild sensory and motor impairments. Aged SPTLC1(C133W) mice lose large myelinated axons in the ventral root of the spinal cord and demonstrate myelin thinning. There is also a loss of large myelinated axons in the dorsal roots, although the unmyelinated fibers are preserved. In the dorsal root ganglia, IB4 staining is diminished, whereas expression of the injury-induced transcription factor ATF3 is increased. These mice represent a novel mouse model of peripheral neuropathy and confirm the link between mutant SPT and neuronal dysfunction.
    Human Molecular Genetics 12/2005; 14(22):3507-21. · 7.69 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The structural organization and topology of the Lcb1p subunit of yeast and mammalian serine palmitoyltransferases (SPT) were investigated. In the yeast protein, three membrane-spanning domains were identified by insertion of glycosylation and factor Xa cleavage sites at various positions. The first domain of the yeast protein, located between residues 50 and 84, was not required for the stability, membrane association, interaction with Lcb2p, or enzymatic activity. Deletion of the comparable domain of the mammalian protein SPTLC1 also had little effect on its function, demonstrating that this region is not required for membrane localization or heterodimerization with SPTLC2. The second and third membrane-spanning domains of yeast Lcb1p, located between residues 342 and 371 and residues 425 and 457, respectively, create a luminal loop of approximately 60 residues. In contrast to the first membrane-spanning domain, the second and third membrane-spanning domains were both required for Lcb1p stability. In addition, mutations in the luminal loop destabilized the SPT heterodimer indicating that this region of the protein is important for SPT structure and function. Mutations in the extreme carboxyl-terminal region of Lcb1p also disrupted heterodimer formation. Taken together, these data suggest that in contrast to other members of the alpha-oxoamine synthases that are soluble homodimers, the Lcb1p and Lcb2p subunits of the SPT heterodimer may interact in the cytosol, as well as within the membrane and/or the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 01/2005; 279(51):53707-16. · 4.65 Impact Factor