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Biochem J. 2003 Nov 15;376(Pt 1):179-88.

Role of the glutamate dehydrogenase reaction in furnishing aspartate nitrogen for urea synthesis: studies in perfused rat liver with 15N.

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  • 1Division of Child Development and Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The present study was designed to determine: (i) the role of the reductive amination of alpha-ketoglutarate via the glutamate dehydrogenase reaction in furnishing mitochondrial glutamate and its transamination into aspartate; (ii) the relative incorporation of perfusate 15NH4Cl, [2-15N]glutamine or [5-15N]glutamine into carbamoyl phosphate and aspartate-N and, thereby, [15N]urea isotopomers; and (iii) the extent to which perfusate [15N]aspartate is taken up by the liver and incorporated into [15N]urea. We used a liver-perfusion system containing a physiological mixture of amino acids and ammonia similar to concentrations in vivo, with 15N label only in glutamine, ammonia or aspartate. The results demonstrate that in perfusions with a physiological mixture of amino acids, approx. 45 and 30% of total urea-N output was derived from perfusate ammonia and glutamine-N respectively. Approximately two-thirds of the ammonia utilized for carbamoyl phosphate synthesis was derived from perfusate ammonia and one-third from glutamine. Perfusate [2-15N]glutamine, [5-15N]glutamine or [15N]aspartate provided 24, 10 and 10% respectively of the hepatic aspartate-N pool, whereas perfusate 15NH4Cl provided approx. 37% of aspartate-N utilized for urea synthesis, secondary to the net formation of [15N]glutamate via the glutamate dehydrogenase reaction. The results suggest that the mitochondrial glutamate formed via the reductive amination of alpha-ketoglutarate may have a key role in ammonia detoxification by the following processes: (i) furnishing aspartate-N for ureagenesis; (ii) serving as a scavenger for excess ammonia; and (iii) improving the availability of the mitochondrial [glutamate] for synthesis of N -acetylglutamate. In addition, the current findings suggest that the formation of aspartate via the mitochondrial aspartate aminotransferase reaction may play an important role in the synthesis of cytosolic argininosuccinate.

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