Amino acid metabolism in uremia

J Am Coll Nutr. 1989 Aug;8(4):310-23. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1989.10720307.


The uremic syndrome is multifactorial, and affects most tissues and organs. Disturbances in protein and amino acid metabolism may play important roles, especially in chronic uremia, either directly or by production of toxic metabolites, with resultant negative nitrogen (N) balance, muscle wasting, reduced protein synthesis, and characteristically abnormal intracellular free amino acid concentrations. There are also grossly abnormal amino acid levels in the plasma of uremic patients, e.g., increases in conjugated amino acids, high levels of several nonessential and low levels of essential amino acids. The ratios of tyrosine/phenylalanine and of valine/glycine are decreased. The low tryptophan levels may contribute to encephalopathy as a result of an imbalance in neurotransmitter synthesis. Citrulline is found in excess; the explanation is unresolved. There are elevated concentrations of the sulfur-containing amino acids: cystine, taurine, cystathionine, and homocysteine. Excess of the latter is implicated in the atherogenesis of renal failure. Disturbed metabolism and interorgan exchange of amino acids in the uremic state explains some of the abnormalities in tissue and plasma concentrations of individual amino acids. Enzymatic defects are involved in the disturbed metabolism of branched chain amino acids (BCAA), with possible antagonism among them, which impairs growth and amino acid utilization. Carbohydrate intolerance, associated with insensitivity of peripheral tissues to insulin and hyperinsulinemia, elicits decreased plasma BCAA. Protein synthesis rates in normal and pathological conditions are more closely related to the intracellular amino acid pool than to plasma amino acid levels. Concentrations of individual amino acids in the plasma pool are poor indicators of their intracellular concentrations. Muscle contains the largest pool of protein and free amino acids in the body. In chronic renal failure patients, the intracellular concentrations of valine, threonine, lysine, and carnosine are low. With low protein diets and in hemodialysis, serine, tyrosine, and taurine often are also low. The low taurine may be related to fatigue and to uremic cardiomyopathies. The commonly used amino acid supplements generally fail to correct the intracellular amino acid deficits. A "New Formula" has been developed to correct these intracellular amino acid abnormalities, and to supplement a low protein diet. It provides more valine than leucine, increased tyrosine and threonine, and less histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, and phenylalanine than in formulas customarily used for patients with chronic renal failure. It is uncertain whether other ap

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Uremia / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids