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Biochem Mol Biol Educ. 2004 Sep;32(5):291-304. doi: 10.1002/bmb.2004.494032050388.

Glutamine metabolism: Role in acid-base balance*.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1870.


The intent of this review is to provide a broad overview of the interorgan metabolism of glutamine and to discuss in more detail its role in acid-base balance. Muscle, adipose tissue, and the lungs are the primary sites of glutamine synthesis and release. During normal acid-base balance, the small intestine and the liver are the major sites of glutamine utilization. The periportal hepatocytes catabolize glutamine and convert ammonium and bicarbonate ions to urea. In contrast, the perivenous hepatocytes are capable of synthesizing glutamine. During metabolic acidosis, the kidney becomes the major site of glutamine extraction and catabolism. This process generates ammonium ions that are excreted in the urine to facilitate the excretion of acids and bicarbonate ions that are transported to the blood to partially compensate the acidosis. The increased renal extraction of glutamine is balanced by an increased release from muscle and liver and by a decreased utilization in the intestine. During chronic acidosis, this adaptation is sustained, in part, by increased renal expression of genes that encode various transport proteins and key enzymes of glutamine metabolism. The increased levels of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase result from increased transcription, while the increase in glutaminase and glutamate dehydrogenase activities result from stabilization of their respective mRNAs. Where feasible, this review draws upon data obtained from studies in humans. Studies conducted in model animals are discussed where available data from humans is either lacking or not firmly established. Because there are quantitative differences in tissue utilization and synthesis of glutamine in different mammals, the review will focus more on common principles than on quantification.

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