Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid of the human body. In catabolic stress situations such as after operations, trauma and during sepsis the enhanced transport of glutamine to splanchnic organs and to blood cells results in an intracellular depletion of glutamine in skeletal muscle. Glutamine is an important metabolic substrate for cells cultivated under in vitro conditions and is a precursor for purines, pyrimidines and phospholipids. Increasing evidence suggests that glutamine is a crucial substrate for immunocompetent cells. Glutamine depletion in the cultivation medium decreases the mitogen-inducible proliferation of lymphocytes, possibly by arresting the cells in the G0-G1 phase of the cell cycle. Glutamine depletion in lymphocytes prevents the formation of signals necessary for late activation. In monocytes glutamine deprivation downregulates surface antigens responsible for antigen preservation and phagocytosis. Glutamine is a precursor for the synthesis of glutathionine and stimulates the formation of heat-shock proteins. Moreover, there are suggestions that glutamine plays a crucial role in osmotic regulation of cell volume and causes phosphorylation of proteins, both of which may stimulate intracellular protein synthesis. Experimental studies revealed that glutamine deficiency causes a necrotising enterocolitis and increases the mortality of animals subjected to bacterial stress. First clinical studies have demonstrated a decrease in the incidence of infections and a shortening of the hospital stay in patients after bone marrow transplantation by supplementation with glutamine. In critically ill patients parenteral glutamine reduced nitrogen loss and caused a reduction of the mortality rate. In surgical patients glutamine evoked an improvement of several immunological parameters. Moreover, glutamine exerted a trophic effect on the intestinal mucosa, decreased the intestinal permeability and thus may prevent the translocation of bacteria. In conclusion, glutamine is an important metabolic substrate of rapidly proliferating cells, influences the cellular hydration state and has multiple effects on the immune system, on intestinal function and on protein metabolism. In several disease states glutamine may consequently, become an indispensable nutrient, which should be provided exogenously during artificial nutrition.