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An Acad Bras Cienc. 2010 Jun;82(2):417-30.

Understanding the mechanisms of glutamine action in critically ill patients.

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Instituto de Biofísica Carlos Chagas Filho, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Centro de Ciências da Saúde, RJ, Brasil.


Glutamine (Gln) is an important energy source and has been used as a supplementary energy substrate. Furthermore, Gln is an essential component for numerous metabolic functions, including acid-base homeostasis, gluconeogenesis, nitrogen transport and synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids. Therefore, glutamine plays a significant role in cell homeostasis and organ metabolism. This article aims to review the mechanisms of glutamine action during severe illnesses. In critically ill patients, the increase in mortality was associated with a decreased plasma Gln concentration. During catabolic stress, Gln consumption rate exceeds the supply, and both plasma and skeletal muscle pools of free Gln are severely reduced. The dose and route of Gln administration clearly influence its effectiveness: high-dose parenteral appears to be more beneficial than low-dose enteral administration. Experimental studies reported that Gln may protect cells, tissues, and whole organisms from stress and injury through the following mechanisms: attenuation of NF (nuclear factor)-kB activation, a balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines, reduction in neutrophil accumulation, improvement in intestinal integrity and immune cell function, and enhanced of heat shock protein expression. In conclusion, high-doses of parenteral Gln (>0.50 g/kg/day) demonstrate a greater potential to benefit in critically ill patients, although Gln pathophysiological mechanisms requires elucidation.

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