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J Biol Chem. 2001 Aug 24;276(34):31876-82. Epub 2001 Jun 21.

Alanine metabolism in the perfused rat liver. Studies with (15)N.

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Department of Biochemistry, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland A1B 3X9, Canada.


We have utilized [(15)N]alanine or (15)NH(3) as metabolic tracers in order to identify sources of nitrogen for hepatic ureagenesis in a liver perfusion system. Studies were done in the presence and absence of physiologic concentrations of portal venous ammonia in order to test the hypothesis that, when the NH(4)(+):aspartate ratio is >1, increased hepatic proteolysis provides cytoplasmic aspartate in order to support ureagenesis. When 1 mm [(15)N]alanine was the sole nitrogen source, the amino group was incorporated into both nitrogens of urea and both nitrogens of glutamine. However, when studies were done with 1 mm alanine and 0.3 mm NH(4)Cl, alanine failed to provide aspartate at a rate that would have detoxified all administered ammonia. Under these circumstances, the presence of ammonia at a physiologic concentration stimulated hepatic proteolysis. In perfusions with alanine alone, approximately 400 nmol of nitrogen/min/g liver was needed to satisfy the balance between nitrogen intake and nitrogen output. When the model included alanine and NH(4)Cl, 1000 nmol of nitrogen/min/g liver were formed from an intra-hepatic source, presumably proteolysis. In this manner, the internal pool provided the cytoplasmic aspartate that allowed the liver to dispose of mitochondrial carbamyl phosphate that was rapidly produced from external ammonia. This information may be relevant to those clinical situations (renal failure, cirrhosis, starvation, low protein diet, and malignancy) when portal venous NH(4)(+) greatly exceeds the concentration of aspartate. Under these circumstances, the liver must summon internal pools of protein in order to accommodate the ammonia burden.

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