Glutamine and glutathione counteract the inhibitory effects of mediators of sepsis in neonatal hepatocytes

J Pediatr Surg. 2001 Feb;36(2):282-6. doi: 10.1053/jpsu.2001.20690.


Background/purpose: Surgical neonates are at risk of sepsis-associated liver dysfunction. Hydrogen peroxide (H(2)O(2)) and nitric oxide (NO) are important mediators of sepsis, which impair neonatal hepatic metabolism. Glutamine has been shown to have beneficial effects on hepatocyte metabolism during neonatal sepsis. However, the molecular basis of these effects are unknown. The aim of this study was to test the hypotheses that (1) glutamine and its dipeptides counteract the inhibitory effect of septic mediators on neonatal hepatocyte oxygen consumption and (2) the effects of glutamine are specific and not shared by other amino acids. In addition, we wished to determine the metabolic pathways and mediators involved in the action of glutamine.

Methods: Hepatocytes were isolated from suckling rats, and O(2) consumption measured polarographically. Study A: the ability of 10 mmol/L glutamine to reverse the inhibitory effects of 1.5 mmol/L H(2)O(2) and 300 micromol/L S-Nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine (SNAP; a nitric oxide donor) on O(2) consumption was examined. Study B: the ability of other amino acids and dipeptides of glutamine to reverse the effects of H(2)O(2) was examined. Study C: various concentrations of glutamine were tested for their ability to reverse the H(2)O(2) inhibition of O(2) consumption. Study D: the mechanism of action of glutamine was examined by incubating hepatocytes with either an inhibitor of entry into the Krebs cycle or an inhibitor of glutathione synthesis. Study E: the ability of glutathione to reverse the inhibitory effects of H(2)O(2) was examined.

Results: Study A: glutamine reversed the inhibition of hepatocyte O(2) consumption exerted by either H(2)O(2) or NO. Study B: glutamine dipeptides reversed the inhibition of hepatocyte O(2) consumption by H(2)O(2), but other amino acids did not. Study C: the counteracting effect of glutamine was proportional to the dose administered. Study D: blocking entry of glutamine into the Krebs cycle did not abolish the effects of glutamine, but blocking glutathione synthesis completely abolished the effect of glutamine. Study E: exogenous glutathione reversed the inhibitory effect of H(2)O(2) on hepatocyte O(2) consumption.

Conclusions: This study found that glutamine and its dipeptides are unique in reversing the effects of septic mediators on neonatal rat liver oxidative metabolism. The effectiveness of glutamine appears to be mediated via glutathione synthesis. Addition of glutamine, glutamine dipeptides, or glutathione to total parenteral nutrition (TPN) may be beneficial in preventing liver damage in neonatal sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Citric Acid Cycle / physiology
  • Glutamine / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism*
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Sepsis / metabolism*


  • Glutamine
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Glutathione