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Hepatology. 1994 Sep;20(3):684-91.

Changes in distribution and activity of glutamine synthetase in carbon tetrachloride-induced cirrhosis in the rat: potential role in hyperammonemia.

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Physiologisch-chemisches Institut, University of Tübingen, Federal Republic of Germany.


Cirrhosis induced in rats by carbon tetrachloride was used to study alterations in the activities and lobular distribution of carbamoylphosphate synthetase and glutamine synthetase. Specific activity of carbamoylphosphate synthetase in cirrhotic subjects was decreased to 70% of controls. Staining was homogeneous within micronodular areas, but varied from area to area and generally showed a decreased intensity. Specific activity of glutamine synthetase and the size of the glutamine synthetase-positive area were decreased to 20% and less of controls. Glutamine synthetase-positive hepatocytes were rare and scattered at the periphery of nodular areas and within fibrous septa, the normal association with the central veins being widely lost. Rarely, complete micronodules showed a slight homogeneous staining for glutamine synthetase. Arginase activity was not affected, whereas glutaminase activity was enhanced by 50%. Serum levels of ammonia were elevated more than 2-fold and those of glutamine by 30%. In contrast, urea levels tended to be slightly diminished. Serum ammonia levels showed a clear negative correlation with the specific activity of glutamine synthetase and the size of the glutamine synthetase-positive area. Furthermore, blood urea levels correlated with the sum of ammonia and glutamine concentrations, but not with each of these substrate concentrations alone. These data suggest that the changes in activity and distribution of glutamine synthetase contribute to hyperammonemia in cirrhosis. Despite a reduced activity of the initial enzyme of the urea cycle, urea synthesis is not diminished accordingly. This may be due to an enhanced flux caused by the elevated blood level of ammonia and an increased hydrolysis of glutamine, because of higher levels of glutaminase.

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