Hypocitrullinemia in patients with MELAS: an insight into the "MELAS paradox"

J Neurol Sci. 2005 Mar 15:229-230:187-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2004.11.026. Epub 2004 Dec 15.


L-citrulline, classified as a nonessential amino acid, is synthesized predominantly via Delta-1-pyrroline carboxylate synthase in the endothelial cells of the small intestine. In mammals, small quantities of citrulline are also produced in nitric oxide synthase-expressing cells. Considering the fact that the enzymes involved in the endogenous synthesis of L-citrulline are all located in the mitochondria and the fact that citrulline is a component of the citrulline-nitric oxide (NO) cycle, we hypothesized that the distinct clinical, biochemical, and morphological characteristics of MELAS, a maternally inherited mitochondrial disorder, might be due to alterations in nitric oxide homeostasis. Analysis of serum from MELAS patients showed that levels of plasma arginine were similar in both patients and in controls. However, levels of citrulline in MELAS patients were significantly lower than in controls, and there was a clear inverse correlation between arginine and citrulline levels in these patients. We found no correlation between the level of heteroplasmy and the plasma levels of either arginine or citrulline. We discuss the depressed citrulline levels in MELAS patients, who have an unusual and paradoxical pattern of vascular respiratory chain expression, in the context of NO homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / blood
  • Arginine / blood
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Citrulline / blood
  • Citrulline / deficiency*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • MELAS Syndrome / blood
  • MELAS Syndrome / drug therapy
  • MELAS Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Citrulline
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Arginine
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases