Aliphatic polyamines in physiology and diseases

Clin Nutr. 2014 Feb;33(1):14-22. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2013.09.019. Epub 2013 Oct 6.


Aliphatic polyamines are a family of polycationic molecules derived from decarboxylation of the amino acid ornithine that classically comprise three molecules: putrescine, spermidine and spermine. In-cell polyamine homeostasis is tightly controlled at key steps of cell metabolism. Polyamines are involved in an array of cellular functions from DNA stabilization, and regulation of gene expression to ion channel function and, particularly, cell proliferation. As such, aliphatic polyamines play an essential role in rapidly dividing cells such as in the immune system and digestive tract. Because of their role in cell proliferation, polyamines are also involved in carcinogenesis, prompting intensive research into polyamine metabolism as a target in cancer therapy. More recently, another aliphatic polyamine, agmatine, the decarboxylated derivative of arginine, has been identified as a neurotransmitter in mammals, and investigations have focused on its effects in the CNS, notably as a neuroprotector in brain injury.

Keywords: Agmatine; Cancer; DFMO; ODC; Putrescine; S-adenosyl-S-methyl homocysteamine; S-adenosylmethionine; SAM; SAM decarboxylase; SAMHC; SAMdc; SSAT; Spermidine; Spermine; difluoromethylornithine; ornithine decarboxylase; spermidine/spermine acetyltransferase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agmatine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Ornithine / physiology
  • Putrescine / physiology*
  • Spermidine / physiology*
  • Spermine / physiology*


  • Spermine
  • Agmatine
  • Ornithine
  • Spermidine
  • Putrescine