Glutamine deficiency renders human monocytic cells more susceptible to specific apoptosis triggers

Surgery. 2002 Jan;131(1):75-80. doi: 10.1067/msy.2002.118318.


Background: After major trauma and sepsis, patients frequently show a decreased blood glutamine (Gln) level. Gln deprivation has been shown to induce apoptosis in intestinal epithelial cells. In this study, we investigated whether the Gln level also affects the susceptibility of monocytic cells to apoptosis.

Methods: Human monocytic U937 cells were suspended in a Gln-free medium, exposed for 20 minutes to either tumor necrosis factor alpha, Fas ligand, heat shock, or UV irradiation and allowed to recover for 4 hours or 24 hours. Apoptosis was measured by annexin-V assay and confirmed by nuclear condensation. The activation of caspase-3 was determined by Western blot.

Results: When induced by tumor necrosis factor alpha, Fas ligand, or heat shock, the apoptosis rate was significantly lower (50%-60%) in the presence of Gln than in the absence of Gln (P <.02). However, Gln had no effect on UV irradiation-induced apoptosis. Caspase-3 was activated by all inducers and was independent of Gln.

Conclusions: This study shows that glutamine deprivation increases the susceptibility of monocytic cells to some but not all inducers of apoptosis. Because Gln has no effect on caspase-3 activation, we hypothesize that the selective anti-apoptotic effect of Gln occurs downstream of caspase-3. These results suggest that Gln serves as a selective immunomodulating factor.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / analysis
  • Apoptosis*
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Fas Ligand Protein
  • Glutamine / deficiency*
  • Glutamine / pharmacology
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / pharmacology
  • Monocytes / pathology*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology
  • U937 Cells
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • FASLG protein, human
  • Fas Ligand Protein
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Glutamine
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases