The Journal of nutrition

Amino acids as regulators and components of nonproteinogenic pathways.

PMID 12771365


Amino acids are not only important precursors for the synthesis of proteins and other N-containing compounds, but also participate in the regulation of major metabolic pathways. Glutamate and aspartate, for example, are components of the malate/aspartate shuttle and their concentrations control the rate of mitochondrial oxidation of glycolytic NADH. Glutamate also controls the rate of urea synthesis, not only as the precursor of ammonia and aspartate, but as substrate for synthesis of N-acetylglutamate, the essential activator of carbamoyl-phosphate synthase. This mechanism allows large variations in urea synthesis at relatively constant ammonia concentrations. Increases in intracellular amino acid concentration increase cell volume. Cell swelling per se has anabolic effects on protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism: enhanced synthesis of macromolecules compensates for increases in intracellular osmolarity. Mechanisms responsible for cell swelling-induced changes in pathway fluxes include changes in intracellular ion concentrations and in signal transduction. Specific amino acids (e.g., leucine) stimulate protein synthesis and inhibit (autophagic) protein degradation independent of changes in cell volume because they stimulate mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), a protein kinase, which is one of the components of a signal transduction pathway used by insulin. When the cellular energy state is low, stimulation of mTOR by amino acids is prevented by activation of AMP-dependent protein kinase. Amino acid-dependent signaling also promotes insulin production by beta-cells. This further adds to the anabolic properties of amino acids. It is concluded that amino acids are important regulators of major metabolic pathways.