A new perspective on the importance of glycine conjugation in the metabolism of aromatic acids

Drug Metab Rev. 2014 Aug;46(3):343-61. doi: 10.3109/03602532.2014.908903. Epub 2014 Apr 22.


A number of endogenous and xenobiotic organic acids are conjugated to glycine, in animals ranging from mosquitoes to humans. Glycine conjugation has generally been assumed to be a detoxification mechanism, increasing the water solubility of organic acids in order to facilitate urinary excretion. However, the recently proposed glycine deportation hypothesis states that the role of the amino acid conjugations, including glycine conjugation, is to regulate systemic levels of amino acids that are also utilized as neurotransmitters in the central nervous systems of animals. This hypothesis is based on the observation that, compared to glucuronidation, glycine conjugation does not significantly increase the water solubility of aromatic acids. In this review it will be argued that the major role of glycine conjugation is to dispose of the end products of phenylpropionate metabolism. Furthermore, glucuronidation, which occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum, would not be ideal for the detoxification of free benzoate, which has been shown to accumulate in the mitochondrial matrix. Glycine conjugation, however, prevents accumulation of benzoic acid in the mitochondrial matrix by forming hippurate, a less lipophilic conjugate that can be more readily transported out of the mitochondria. Finally, it will be explained that the glycine conjugation of benzoate, a commonly used preservative, exacerbates the dietary deficiency of glycine in humans. Because the resulting shortage of glycine can negatively influence brain neurochemistry and the synthesis of collagen, nucleic acids, porphyrins, and other important metabolites, the risks of using benzoate as a preservative should not be underestimated.

Keywords: CASTOR disorders; Coenzyme A; benzoate; glycine N-acyltransferase; glycine conjugation; glycine deportation; hippurate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Aromatic / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Benzoates / metabolism
  • Benzoic Acid / metabolism
  • Glycine / metabolism*
  • Humans


  • Amino Acids, Aromatic
  • Benzoates
  • Benzoic Acid
  • Glycine