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J Agric Food Chem. 1999 Sep;47(9):3457-79.

Chemistry, nutrition, and microbiology of D-amino acids.

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  • Western Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 800 Buchanan Street, Albany, California 94710, USA. mfried@pw.usda.gov


Exposure of food proteins to certain processing conditions induces two major chemical changes: racemization of all L-amino acids to D-isomers and concurrent formation of cross-linked amino acids such as lysinoalanine. Racemization of L-amino acids residues to their D-isomers in food and other proteins is pH-, time-, and temperature-dependent. Although racemization rates of the 18 different L-amino acid residues in a protein vary, the relative rates in different proteins are similar. The diet contains both processing-induced and naturally formed D-amino acids. The latter include those found in microorganisms, plants, and marine invertebrates. Racemization impairs digestibility and nutritional quality. The nutritional utilization of different D-amino acids varies widely in animals and humans. In addition, some D-amino acids may be both beneficial and deleterious. Thus, although D-phenylalanine in an all-amino-acid diet is utilized as a nutritional source of L-phenylalanine, high concentrations of D-tyrosine in such diets inhibit the growth of mice. Both D-serine and lysinoalanine induce histological changes in the rat kidney. The wide variation in the utilization of D-amino acids is illustrated by the fact that whereas D-methionine is largely utilized as a nutritional source of the L-isomer, D-lysine is totally devoid of any nutritional value. Similarly, although L-cysteine has a sparing effect on L-methionine when fed to mice, D-cysteine does not. Because D-amino acids are consumed by animals and humans as part of their normal diets, a need exists to develop a better understanding of their roles in nutrition, food safety, microbiology, physiology, and medicine. To contribute to this effort, this multidiscipline-oriented overview surveys our present knowledge of the chemistry, nutrition, safety, microbiology, and pharmacology of D-amino acids. Also covered are the origin and distribution of D-amino acids in the food chain and in body fluids and tissues and recommendations for future research in each of these areas. Understanding of the integrated, beneficial effects of D-amino acids against cancer, schizophrenia, and infection, and overlapping aspects of the formation, occurrence, and biological functions of D-amino should lead to better foods and improved human health.

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