Dog bites man or man bites dog? The enigma of the amino acid conjugations

Biochem Pharmacol. 2012 May 15;83(10):1331-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2011.12.031. Epub 2011 Dec 29.


The proposition posed is that the value of amino acid conjugation to the organism is not, as in the traditional view, to use amino acids for the detoxication of aromatic acids. Rather, the converse is more likely, to use aromatic acids that originate from the diet and gut microbiota to assist in the regulation of body stores of amino acids, such as glycine, glutamate, and, in certain invertebrates, arginine, that are key neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (CNS). As such, the amino acid conjugations are not so much detoxication reactions, rather they are homeostatic and neuroregulatory processes. Experimental data have been culled in support of this hypothesis from a broad range of scientific and clinical literature. Such data include the low detoxication value of amino acid conjugations and the Janus nature of certain amino acids that are both neurotransmitters and apparent conjugating agents. Amino acid scavenging mechanisms in blood deplete brain amino acids. Amino acids glutamate and glycine when trafficked from brain are metabolized to conjugates of aromatic acids in hepatic mitochondria and then irreversibly excreted into urine. This process is used clinically to deplete excess nitrogen in cases of urea cycle enzymopathies through excretion of glycine or glutamine as their aromatic acid conjugates. Untoward effects of high-dose phenylacetic acid surround CNS toxicity. There appears to be a relationship between extent of glycine scavenging by benzoic acid and psychomotor function. Glycine and glutamine scavenging by conjugation with aromatic acids may have important psychosomatic consequences that link diet to health, wellbeing, and disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / blood
  • Amino Acids / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Amino Acids / urine
  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Humans
  • Rats


  • Amino Acids