The function of spermine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


Polyamines play important roles in cell physiology including effects on the structure of cellular macromolecules, gene expression, protein function, nucleic acid and protein synthesis, regulation of ion channels, and providing protection from oxidative damage. Vertebrates contain two polyamines, spermidine and spermine, as well as their precursor, the diamine putrescine. Although spermidine has an essential and unique role as the precursor of hypusine a post-translational modification of the elongation factor eIF5A, which is necessary for this protein to function in protein synthesis, no unique role for spermine has been identified unequivocally. The existence of a discrete spermine synthase enzyme that converts spermidine to spermine suggest that spermine must be needed and this is confirmed by studies with Gy mice and human patients with Snyder-Robinson syndrome in which spermine synthase is absent or greatly reduced. In both cases, this leads to a severe phenotype with multiple effects among which are intellectual disability, other neurological changes, hypotonia, and reduced growth of muscle and bone. This review describes these alterations and focuses on the roles of spermine which may contribute to these phenotypes including reducing damage due to reactive oxygen species, protection from stress, permitting correct current flow through inwardly rectifying K + channels, controlling activity of brain glutamate receptors involved in learning and memory, and affecting growth responses. Additional possibilities include acting as storage reservoir for maintaining appropriate levels of free spermidine and a possible non-catalytic role for spermine synthase protein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-18
Number of pages11
JournalIUBMB Life
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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