Digestion of Nucleic Acids Starts in the Stomach

Sci Rep. 2015 Jul 14;5:11936. doi: 10.1038/srep11936.


The ingestion of nucleic acids (NAs) as a nutritional supplement or in genetically modified food has attracted the attention of researchers in recent years. Discussions over the fate of NAs led us to study their digestion in the stomach. Interestingly, we found that NAs are digested efficiently by human gastric juice. By performing digests with commercial, recombinant and mutant pepsin, a protein-specific enzyme, we learned that the digestion of NAs could be attributed to pepsin rather than to the acidity of the stomach. Further study showed that pepsin cleaved NAs in a moderately site-specific manner to yield 3'-phosphorylated fragments and the active site to digest NAs is probably the same as that used to digest protein. Our results rectify the misunderstandings that the digestion of NAs in the gastric tract begins in the intestine and that pepsin can only digest protein, shedding new light on NA metabolism and pepsin enzymology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • DNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Gastric Juice / metabolism
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acids / metabolism*
  • Pepsin A / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Pepsin A / metabolism
  • Pepstatins / metabolism
  • Pepstatins / pharmacology


  • DNA, Viral
  • Nucleic Acids
  • Pepstatins
  • DNA
  • Pepsin A
  • pepstatin