The role of arginine in infection and sepsis

JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2005 Jan-Feb;29(1 Suppl):S70-4. doi: 10.1177/01486071050290S1S70.


Sepsis is a systemic response to an infection, with high morbidity and mortality rates. Metabolic changes during infection and sepsis could be related to changes in metabolism of the amino acid L-arginine. In sepsis, protein breakdown is increased, which is a key process to maintain arginine delivery because both endogenous de novo arginine production from citrulline and food intake are reduced. Arginine catabolism, on the other hand, is markedly increased by enhanced use of arginine via the arginase and nitric oxide pathways. As a result, lowered plasma arginine levels are usually found. Arginine may therefore be considered as an essential amino acid in sepsis, and supplementation could be beneficial in sepsis by improving microcirculation and protein anabolism. L-Arginine supplementation in a hyperdynamic pig model of sepsis prohibits the increase in pulmonary arterial blood pressure, improves muscle and liver protein metabolism, and restores the intestinal motility pattern. Arguments raised against arginine supplementation are mainly pointed at stimulating nitric oxide (NO) production, with concerns about toxicity of increased NO and hemodynamic instability with refractory hypotension. NO synthase inhibition, however, increased mortality. Arginine supplementation in septic patients has transient effects on hemodynamics when supplied as a bolus but seems without hemodynamic side effects when supplied continuously. In conclusion, arginine could have an essential role in infection and sepsis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginine / metabolism
  • Arginine / physiology*
  • Arginine / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Parenteral Nutrition / methods*
  • Sepsis / metabolism*
  • Sepsis / therapy
  • Swine


  • Nitric Oxide
  • Arginine