Limited capacity for ammonia removal by brain in chronic liver failure: potential role of nitric oxide

Metab Brain Dis. 2005 Dec;20(4):275-83. doi: 10.1007/s11011-005-7906-4.


Chronic liver failure leads to hyperammonemia and consequently increased brain ammonia concentrations, resulting in hepatic encephalopathy. When the liver fails to regulate ammonia concentrations, the brain, devoid of a urea cycle, relies solely on the amidation of glutamate to glutamine through glutamine synthetase, to efficiently clear ammonia. Surprisingly, under hyperammonemic conditions, the brain is not capable of increasing its capacity to remove ammonia, which even decreases in some regions of the brain. This non-induction of glutamine synthetase in astrocytes could result from possible limiting substrates or cofactors for the enzyme, or an indirect effect of ammonia on glutamine synthetase expression. In addition, there is evidence that nitration of the enzyme resulting from exposure to nitric oxide could also be implicated. The present review summarizes these possible factors involved in limiting the increase in capacity of glutamine synthetase in brain, in chronic liver failure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology*
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I / metabolism


  • Nitric Oxide
  • Ammonia
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase