The intestinal barrier integrity is essential for the absorption of nutrients and health in humans and animals. Dysfunction of the mucosal barrier is associated with increased gut permeability and development of multiple gastrointestinal diseases. Recent studies highlighted a critical role for glutamine, which had been traditionally considered as a nutritionally non-essential amino acid, in activating the mammalian target of rapamycin cell signaling in enterocytes. In addition, glutamine has been reported to enhance intestinal and whole-body growth, to promote enterocyte proliferation and survival, and to regulate intestinal barrier function in injury, infection, weaning stress, and other catabolic conditions. Mechanistically, these effects were mediated by maintaining the intracellular redox status and regulating expression of genes associated with various signaling pathways. Furthermore, glutamine stimulates growth of the small intestinal mucosa in young animals and also enhances ion transport by the gut in neonates and adults. Growing evidence supports the notion that glutamine is a nutritionally essential amino acid for neonates and a conditionally essential amino acid for adults. Thus, as a functional amino acid with multiple key physiological roles, glutamine holds great promise in protecting the gut from atrophy and injury under various stress conditions in mammals and other animals.
Keywords: Glutamine; Intestinal barrier function; Nutrition.