Amino Acid Transport and Metabolism Regulate Early Embryo Development: Species Differences, Clinical Significance, and Evolutionary Implications

Cells. 2021 Nov 13;10(11):3154. doi: 10.3390/cells10113154.


In this review we discuss the beneficial effects of amino acid transport and metabolism on pre- and peri-implantation embryo development, and we consider how disturbances in these processes lead to undesirable health outcomes in adults. Proline, glutamine, glycine, and methionine transport each foster cleavage-stage development, whereas leucine uptake by blastocysts via transport system B0,+ promotes the development of trophoblast motility and the penetration of the uterine epithelium in mammalian species exhibiting invasive implantation. (Amino acid transport systems and transporters, such as B0,+, are often oddly named. The reader is urged to focus on the transporters' functions, not their names.) B0,+ also accumulates leucine and other amino acids in oocytes of species with noninvasive implantation, thus helping them to produce proteins to support later development. This difference in the timing of the expression of system B0,+ is termed heterochrony-a process employed in evolution. Disturbances in leucine uptake via system B0,+ in blastocysts appear to alter the subsequent development of embryos, fetuses, and placentae, with undesirable consequences for offspring. These consequences may include greater adiposity, cardiovascular dysfunction, hypertension, neural abnormalities, and altered bone growth in adults. Similarly, alterations in amino acid transport and metabolism in pluripotent cells in the blastocyst inner cell mass likely lead to epigenetic DNA and histone modifications that produce unwanted transgenerational health outcomes. Such outcomes might be avoided if we learn more about the mechanisms of these effects.

Keywords: amino acid metabolism; amino acid transport; embryo development; epigenetic modifications; offspring.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biological Transport
  • Embryonic Development*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Species Specificity


  • Amino Acids