Ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate as a potent precursor of arginine and nitric oxide: a new job for an old friend

J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10 Suppl):2858S-2862S; discussion 2895S. doi: 10.1093/jn/134.10.2858s.


Ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate (OKG) is a salt formed of 2 molecules of ornithine and 1 alpha-ketoglutarate. Its administration improves nutritional status in chronically malnourished (e.g., elderly) and acutely malnourished patients (especially burn and trauma patients). There is evidence that OKG activity is not the simple addition of the effects of ornithine (Orn) and alpha-ketoglutarate (alphaKG), because the presence of both moieties is required to induce the generation of key metabolites such as glutamine, proline, and arginine (Arg), whereas this does not occur when one or the other is given separately. This observation is related to the fact that the main feature of Orn at the whole-body level is to be metabolized through the Orn aminotransferase-dependent pathway, whereas the simultaneous administration of Orn and alphaKG saturates this pathway, diverting Orn toward metabolism into Arg. For years, OKG activity has been associated with its ability to induce the secretion of anabolic hormones, such as insulin and growth hormone, and to increase glutamine and polyamine synthesis. Recent studies using chemical inhibitors of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) suggest that nitric oxide derived from Arg could be partly involved in OKG activity. The use of genetically modified animals (i.e., knockout for NOS expression) is required to confirm this hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine / biosynthesis*
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis*
  • Ornithine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Ornithine / metabolism*
  • Prodrugs / metabolism*


  • Prodrugs
  • Nitric Oxide
  • ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate
  • Arginine
  • Ornithine