Importance of Radioactive Labelling to Elucidate Inositol Polyphosphate Signalling

Miranda S.C. Wilson and Adolfo Saiardi.


Inositol polyphosphates, in their water-soluble or lipid-bound forms, represent a large and multifaceted family of signalling molecules. Some inositol polyphosphates are well recognised as defining important signal transduction pathways, as in the case of the calcium release factor Ins(1,4,5)P3, generated by receptor activation-induced hydrolysis of the lipid PtdIns(4,5)P2 by phospholipase C. The birth of inositol polyphosphate research would not have occurred without the use of radioactive phosphate tracers that enabled the discovery of the “PI response”. Radioactive labels, mainly of phosphorus but also carbon and hydrogen (tritium), have been instrumental in the development of this research field and the establishment of the inositol polyphosphates as one of the most important networks of regulatory molecules present in eukaryotic cells. Advancements in microscopy and mass spectrometry and the development of colorimetric assays have facilitated inositol polyphosphate research, but have not eliminated the need for radioactive experimental approaches. In fact, such experiments have become easier with the cloning of the inositol polyphosphate kinases, enabling the systematic labelling of specific positions of the inositol ring with radioactive phosphate. This approach has been valuable for elucidating their metabolic pathways and identifying specific and novel functions for inositol polyphosphates. For example, the synthesis of radiolabelled inositol pyrophosphates has allowed the discovery of a new protein post-translational modification. Therefore, radioactive tracers have played and will continue to play an important role in dissecting the many complex aspects of inositol polyphosphate physiology. In this review we aim to highlight the historical importance of radioactivity in inositol polyphosphate research, as well as its modern usage.