We investigated the biochemical changes which accompanied the development and reversion of methionine dependence in a human glioma cell line GaMg. This cell line attained a higher proliferation rate and more malignant morphology with increasing passages in vitro. Early passages (P10, P25, and P45) were able to grow in a methionine-deficient medium supplemented with homocysteine (Met-Hcy+), while a later passage (P60) had lost this ability, i.e., it had become methionine-dependent. From P60 cells, a methionine-independent revertant (P60R) was established by exposing the cells to 5-aza-2-deoxycytidine, followed by culture in a Met-Hcy+ medium. In these genetically related cell lines, we investigated homocysteine remethylation and the functional state of cobalamin-dependent methionine synthase, the enzyme responsible for remethylation of homocysteine to methionine. The methionine synthase activity in cell extracts was similar in all cell sublines. Intact cell methionine biosynthesis and nitrous oxide-dependent homocysteine export reflect homocysteine remethylation in cells cultured in a Met-Hcy+ and methionine-containing (Met+Hcy-) medium, respectively. Both of these parameters, as well as the cellular content of the substrate 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, and the cofactor methylcobalamin, in addition to adenosylcobalamin, were high in P10, declined progressively in P45 and P60, and were restored in P60R. P25 cells had some unique features among the methionine-independent phenotypes because both homocysteine remethylation and the level of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate were low in Met+Hcy- medium. The maximal homocysteine export rate in the presence of nitrous oxide, which reflects the overall transmethylation rate, was high in P60 and even higher in P60R compared to the lower passages. The basis for development of methionine dependence during culture of this glioma cell line seems related to the combined effects of reduced methionine biosynthesis and an increased overall transmethylation rate. The single parameter which most closely correlated to the ability to use homocysteine for growth was methylcobalamin. These data support a model for methionine dependence, which implies impaired provision of cobalamin to methionine synthase.

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This work was supported by grants from the Norwegian Cancer Society and the Norwegian Research Council.

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