The dipeptide L-carnosine (beta-alanyl-L-histidine) has been described as enigmatic: it inhibits growth of cancer cells but delays senescence in cultured human fibroblasts and extends the lifespan of male fruit flies. In an attempt to understand these observations, the effects of L-carnosine on the model eukaryote, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, were examined on account of its unique metabolic properties; S. cerevisiae can respire aerobically, but like some tumor cells, it can also exhibit a metabolism in which aerobic respiration is down regulated. L-Carnosine exhibited both inhibitory and stimulatory effects on yeast cells, dependent upon the carbon source in the growth medium. When yeast cells were not reliant on oxidative phosphorylation for energy generation (e.g. when grown on a fermentable carbon source such as 2% glucose), 10-30 mM L-carnosine slowed growth rates in a dose-dependent manner and increased cell death by up to 17%. In contrast, in media containing a non-fermentable carbon source in which yeast are dependent on aerobic respiration (e.g. 2% glycerol), L-carnosine did not provoke cell death. This latter observation was confirmed in the respiratory yeast, Pichia pastoris. Moreover, when deletion strains in the yeast nutrient-sensing pathway were treated with L-carnosine, the cells showed resistance to its inhibitory effects. These findings suggest that L-carnosine affects cells in a metabolism-dependent manner and provide a rationale for its effects on different cell types.
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