Evolutionary matches of enzyme and transporter capacities to dietary substrate loads in the intestinal brush border

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Science




Safety factors of enzymes and transporters are defined as the ratio of Vmax (maximal reaction rates at high substrate concentrations) to the reaction rate under actual physiological conditions. Although corresponding safety factors have been measured for macroscopic biological structures and for human-engineered structures, safety factors have been little studied at the molecular level. Some evolutionary considerations suggest that safety factors should be modestly in excess of 1.0 (“enough but not too much”) and should tend to be similar for the various steps of a pathway consisting of two or more elements arranged in series. Hence we used a preparation of intact mouse small intestine to measure Vmax values (capacities) of brush-border sucrase (yielding glucose plus fructose) and of the brush-border glucose transporter, for comparison with each other and with dietary sucrose loads. Load was manipulated by varying dietary sucrose level or by studying lactating mice with increased energy requirements. Capacities both of sucrase and the glucose transporter increased with sucrose load (i.e., both proteins are inducible) and remained approximately matched to each other except on a carbohydrate-free diet. Their safety factors decreased from ca. 2.7 at low load to 1.0 at high load. Thus, neither sucrase nor the glucose transporter is the rate-limiting step for sucrose digestion; both steps are equally limiting. The modest safety factors and matched capacities must be genetically programmed through natural selection, with benefits of excess capacities being balanced against costs of biosynthetic energy and limited membrane space.