Thiamine is one of several essential cofactors for ATP generation. Its deficiency, like in beriberi and in the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, has been studied for many decades. However, its mechanism of action is still not completely understood at the cellular and molecular levels. Since it acts as a coenzyme for dehydrogenases of pyruvate, branched-chain keto acids, and ketoglutarate, its nutritional privation is partly a phenocopy of inborn errors of metabolism, among them maple syrup urine disease. In the present paper, we report metabolic and genomic findings in mice deprived of thiamine. They are similar to the ones we have previously found in biotin deficiency, another ATP generation cofactor. Here we show that thiamine deficiency substantially reduced the energy state in the liver and activated the energy sensor AMP-activated kinase. With this vitamin deficiency, several metabolic parameters changed: blood glucose was diminished and serum lactate was increased, but insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol, as well as liver glycogen, were reduced. These results indicate a severe change in the energy status of the whole organism. Our findings were associated with modified hepatic levels of the mRNAs of several carbon metabolism genes: a reduction of transcripts for liver glucokinase and fatty acid synthase and augmentation of those for carnitine palmitoyl transferase 1 and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase as markers for glycolysis, fatty acid synthesis, beta-oxidation, and gluconeogenesis, respectively. Glucose tolerance was initially increased, suggesting augmented insulin sensitivity, as we had found in biotin deficiency; however, in the case of thiamine, it was diminished from the 3rd week on, when the deficient animals became undernourished, and paralleled the changes in AKT and mTOR, 2 main proteins in the insulin signaling pathway. Since many of the metabolic and gene expression effects on mice deprived of thiamine are similar to those in biotin deficiency, it may be that they result from a more general impairment of oxidative phosphorylation due to a shortage of ATP generation cofactors. These findings may be relevant to energy-related disorders, among them several inborn errors of metabolism, as well as common energy disorders like obesity, diabetes, and neurodegenerative illnesses.

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