Dietary nucleotides: effects on the immune and gastrointestinal systems

Acta Paediatr Suppl. 1999 Aug;88(430):83-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.1999.tb01306.x.


Nucleotides (NT) and their related metabolic products play key roles in many biological processes. NT can be synthesized endogenously and thus are not considered essential nutrients. Studies have demonstrated, however, that dietary NT can have beneficial effects; the term "conditionally essential" has been used to describe their role in human nutrition. These nutrients may become essential when the endogenous supply is insufficient for normal function, even though their absence from the diet does not lead to a classic clinical deficiency syndrome. Most dietary NT are rapidly metabolized and excreted. However, some are incorporated into tissues, particularly at younger ages and with fasting. Under conditions of limited NT intake, rapid growth or certain disease states, dietary NT may spare the cost of de novo NT synthesis and optimize the function of rapidly dividing tissues such as those of the gastrointestinal and immune systems. Animals fed NT-supplemented versus non-NT supplemented diets have enhanced gastrointestinal growth and maturation, and improved recovery following small and large bowel injury. Indices of humoral and cellular immunity are enhanced, and survival rates are higher following infection with pathogens. Infants receive NT in human milk, where they are present as nucleic acids, nucleosides, nucleotides and related metabolic products. The NT content of human milk is significantly higher than most cow's milk-based infant formulae. Dietary NT are reported to enhance the gastrointestinal and immune systems of formula-fed infants. Infants fed NT-supplemented versus non-supplemented formula have a lower incidence of diarrhea, higher antibody titers following Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccination and higher natural killer cell activity. These data suggest that human milk NT may contribute to the superior clinical performance of the breastfed infant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bottle Feeding
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child Development / physiology
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Digestive System / growth & development*
  • Digestive System Physiological Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune System / growth & development*
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Nucleotides / administration & dosage*
  • Nucleotides / metabolism*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Nucleotides