Pivotal Role of Glutamine Synthetase in Ammonia Detoxification

Theodorus B. M. Hakvoort, Youji He, Wim Kulik, Jacqueline L. M. Vermeulen, Suzanne Duijst, Jan M. Ruijter, Jurgen H. Runge, Nicolaas E. P. Deutz, S. Eleonore Koehler, Wouter H. Lamers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Glutamine synthetase (GS) catalyzes condensation of ammonia with glutamate to glutamine. Glutamine serves, with alanine, as a major nontoxic interorgan ammonia carrier. Elimination of hepatic GS expression in mice causes only mild hyperammonemia and hypoglutaminemia but a pronounced decrease in the whole-body muscle-to-fat ratio with increased myostatin expression in muscle. Using GS-knockout/liver and control mice and stepwise increments of enterally infused ammonia, we show that similar to 35% of this ammonia is detoxified by hepatic GS and similar to 35% by urea-cycle enzymes, while similar to 30% is not cleared by the liver, independent of portal ammonia concentrations similar to 2 mmol/L. Using both genetic (GSknockout/ liver and GS-knockout/muscle) and pharmacological (methionine sulfoximine and dexamethasone) approaches to modulate GS activity, we further show that detoxification of stepwise increments of intravenously (jugular vein) infused ammonia is almost totally dependent on GS activity. Maximal ammonia-detoxifying capacity through either the enteral or the intravenous route is similar to 160 lmol/hour in control mice. Using stable isotopes, we show that disposal of glutaminebound ammonia to urea (through mitochondrial glutaminase and carbamoylphosphate synthetase) depends on the rate of glutamine synthesis and increases from similar to 7% in methionine sulfoximine-treated mice to similar to 500% in dexamethasone-treated mice (control mice, 100%), without difference in total urea synthesis. Conclusions: Hepatic GS contributes to both enteral and systemic ammonia detoxification. Glutamine synthesis in the periphery (including that in pericentral hepatocytes) and glutamine catabolism in (periportal) hepatocytes represents the high-affinity ammonia-detoxifying system of the body. The dependence of glutamine-bound ammonia disposal to urea on the rate of glutamine synthesis suggests that enhancing peripheral glutamine synthesis is a promising strategy to treat hyperammonemia. Because total urea synthesis does not depend on glutamine synthesis, we hypothesize that glutamate dehydrogenase complements mitochondrial ammonia production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-293
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


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