Insulin resistance and glycine metabolism in humans

Amino Acids. 2018 Jan;50(1):11-27. doi: 10.1007/s00726-017-2508-0. Epub 2017 Nov 1.


Plasma glycine level is low in patients with obesity or diabetes and the improvement of insulin resistance increases plasma glycine concentration. In prospective studies, hypoglycinemia at baseline predicts the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and higher serum glycine level is associated with decreased risk of incident type 2 diabetes. Consistently, plasma glycine concentration is lower in the lean offspring of parents with type 2 diabetes compared to healthy subjects. Among patients with type 2 diabetes, hypoglycinemia occurs before clinical manifestations of the disease, but the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying glycine deficit and its potential clinical repercussions are unclear. Glycine participates in several metabolic pathways, being required for relevant human physiological processes. Humans synthesize glycine from glyoxylate, glucose (via serine), betaine and likely from threonine and during the endogenous synthesis of L-carnitine. Glycine conjugates bile acids and other acyl moieties producing acyl-glycine derivatives. The glycine cleavage system catalyzes glycine degradation to carbon dioxide and ammonium while tetrahydrofolate is converted into 5,10-methylene-tetrahydrofolate. Glycine is utilized to synthesize serine, sarcosine, purines, creatine, heme group, glutathione, and collagen. Glycine is a major quantitative component of collagen. In addition, the role of glycine maintaining collagen structure is critical, as glycine residues are required to stabilize the triple helix of the collagen molecule. This quality of glycine likely contributes to explain the occurrence of medial arterial calcification and the elevated cardiovascular risk associated with diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as emerging evidence links normal collagen content with the initiation and progression of vascular calcification in humans.

Keywords: Diabetes; Glycine; Insulin resistance; Obesity; One-carbon metabolism; Serine hydroxymethyl transferase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Glycine / biosynthesis
  • Glycine / blood
  • Glycine / deficiency
  • Glycine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Models, Biological


  • Glycine