The high prevalence of protein-energy malnutrition is a critical issue for patients with end stage renal disease (ESRD) on hemodialysis (HD) or continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). Levels of plasma and intracellular amino acids are significant indicators of protein metabolism and nutritional status assessment. We measured plasma FAAs in patients on maintenance dialysis and to provide information in monitoring the therapeutic strategy, particularly in AA supplementary therapy or protein restriction. Fifty-five patients with ESRD were investigated, 25 on HD (male : female=14 : 11; 48-67 y) and 30 on CAPD (male : female=17 : 13; 45-64 y). The subjects had been on dialysis for an average of 13 months (range, 9 to 22 months). Their plasma FAAs (including their intermediate metabolites) were measured by ion exchange chromatography before and after HD or during CAPD and were compared with data obtained from 20 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. The total plasma FAA levels (urea and free ammonia, NH3 were excluded) in pre-HD samples (3911 +/- 709 micromol/l) was significantly higher than in the other groups (2570 +/- 378 in control, 3210 +/- 640 in post-HD, and 3468 +/- 271 in CAPD samples). The mean plasma FAA concentrations differed significantly between pre-HD and controls and between pre-HD and CAPD samples (p<0.05). No significant differences were found among the other group comparisons. Comparing individual FAA concentrations, only citrulline differed significantly among all groups (p<0.05), whereas serine, glutamine, beta-alanine, beta-aminoisobutyric acid, and gamma-aminobutyric acid were not different. Concentrations of some FAAs involved in the urea cycle, e.g., arginine, aspartic acid, citrulline, and ornithines, and solutes urea and NH3, were significantly increased. Ratios of tyrosine/phenylalanine and valine/glycine ratios were markedly reduced in all patients on dialysis compared with controls. FAAs either from dietary uptake or protein catabolism are substantially retained in the plasma of patients with ESRD, possibly producing higher levels of the waste products (urea and NH3) through the urea cycle and ammonia metabolism in liver. Maintenance dialysis can effectively eliminate excess FAAs in plasma, as there was a 17.9% reduction post-HD. The abnormalities in FAA metabolism found in patients with ESRD necessitate careful consideration of dialysis and dietary measures.