The eukaryotic translation initiation factor eIF5A, which exists in two isoforms, was originally thought to be involved in formation of the first peptide bond during mRNA translation, but more recent work has implicated it as a translation elongation factor. In mammalian cells it has variously been associated with mediation of proliferation, apoptosis and inflammatory responses, although its mechanisms of action have remained vague. It has also been identified as a cofactor of the Rev trans-activator protein of HIV-1. eIF5A is unique in that it is the only known protein to contain the amino acid hypusine, formed posttranslationally via the sequential action of deoxyhypusine synthase (DHS) and deoxyhypusine hydroxylase (DOHH) acting at a specific lysine residue.
Based on the role of eIF5A in inflammation, a multi-institutional research team led by scientists at Indiana University School of Medicine has explored involvement of the protein in pancreatic islet dysfunction during the development of diabetes. In a low-dose streptozotocin mouse model of diabetes the team found that depletion of eIF5A (using siRNA) protected the mice from pancreatic β-cell loss and hyperglycemia. The depletion of eIF5A resulted in impaired translation of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS)-encoding mRNA within islet cells. Further studies using an inhibitor of DHS, N1-guanyl-1,7-diaminoheptane (GC7), demonstrated a requirement for hypusination in the action of eIF5A.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, demonstrates a role for eIF5A in inflammation-induced damage to islet cells. Since the negative effects of eIF5A depend on hypusination, DHS may represent a viable therapeutic target for diabetes. Further work will be necessary to establish the role of this pathway in development and progression of the human disease.