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Physiol Rev. 2018 Apr 1;98(2):641-665. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00037.2016.

Arginase: A Multifaceted Enzyme Important in Health and Disease.

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Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Vision Discovery Institute, Department of Medicine-Hematology and Oncology, Department of Occupational Therapy, School of Allied Health Sciences, and Vascular Biology Center, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University , Augusta, Georgia ; and VA Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia.


The arginase enzyme developed in early life forms and was maintained during evolution. As the last step in the urea cycle, arginase cleaves l-arginine to form urea and l-ornithine. The urea cycle provides protection against excess ammonia, while l-ornithine is needed for cell proliferation, collagen formation, and other physiological functions. In mammals, increases in arginase activity have been linked to dysfunction and pathologies of the cardiovascular system, kidney, and central nervous system and also to dysfunction of the immune system and cancer. Two important aspects of the excessive activity of arginase may be involved in diseases. First, overly active arginase can reduce the supply of l-arginine needed for the production of nitric oxide (NO) by NO synthase. Second, too much l-ornithine can lead to structural problems in the vasculature, neuronal toxicity, and abnormal growth of tumor cells. Seminal studies have demonstrated that increased formation of reactive oxygen species and key inflammatory mediators promote this pathological elevation of arginase activity. Here, we review the involvement of arginase in diseases affecting the cardiovascular, renal, and central nervous system and cancer and discuss the value of therapies targeting the elevated activity of arginase.

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