The role of nucleotides in the immune and gastrointestinal systems: potential clinical applications

Nutr Clin Pract. 2012 Apr;27(2):281-94. doi: 10.1177/0884533611434933. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


Nucleotides are low molecular weight biological molecules key to biochemical processes. Sources include de novo synthesis, recovery via salvage mechanisms, and dietary intakes. Although endogenous production serves as the main nucleotide source, evidence suggests that exogenous sources are essential to immune competence, intestinal development, and recovery. Dietary nucleotides serve a marked role in rapidly proliferating cells where they are necessary for optimal function. Accordingly, dietary nucleotides are deemed conditionally essential in the presence of various physiological stresses, including growth and development, recovery from injury, infection, and certain disease states. Clinical studies that evaluated nutrition formulations of nucleotides in combination with other specific nutrient substances demonstrated improved clinical outcomes in patients characterized as critically ill, injured, immune suppressed, or with chronic gastrointestinal conditions. However, conclusions regarding specific benefits of nucleotides are limited. Scientific substantiation of nucleotide supplementation in infant formula has been reported to improve the maturation and development of the intestinal tract as well as immune function. All medical nutrition products except for one immune-modulating formulation are devoid of nucleotides. In an effort to build on this, the current review presents the data to support potential clinical applications for nucleotides in enteral nutrition that may contribute to improved outcomes in physiologically stressed patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Disease Management
  • Enteral Nutrition*
  • Food, Formulated
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immune System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Immune System Diseases / therapy
  • Immunity / drug effects
  • Nucleotides / pharmacology
  • Nucleotides / therapeutic use*
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects*


  • Nucleotides