Arginine deficiency in preterm infants: biochemical mechanisms and nutritional implications. Academic Article uri icon


  • Arginine, an amino acid that is nutritionally essential for the fetus and neonate, is crucial for ammonia detoxification and the synthesis of molecules with enormous importance (including creatine, nitric oxide, and polyamines). A significant nutritional problem in preterm infants is a severe deficiency of arginine (hypoargininemia), which results in hyperammonemia, as well as cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, and intestinal dysfunction. Arginine deficiency may contribute to the high rate of infant morbidity and mortality associated with premature births. Although hypoargininemia in preterm infants has been recognized for more than 30 years, it continues to occur in neonatal intensive care units in the United States and worldwide. On the basis of recent findings, we propose that intestinal citrulline and arginine synthesis (the major endogenous source of arginine) is limited in preterm neonates owing to the limited expression of the genes for key enzymes (e.g., pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthase, argininosuccinate synthase and lyase), thereby contributing to hypoargininemia. Because premature births in humans occur before the normal perinatal surge of cortisol (an inducer of the expression of key arginine-synthetic enzymes), its administration may be a useful tool to advance the maturation of intestinal arginine synthesis in preterm neonates. Additional benefits of cortisol treatment may include the following: 1) allowing early introduction of enteral feeding to preterm infants, which is critical for intestinal synthesis of citrulline, arginine, and polyamines as well as for intestinal motility, integrity, and growth; and 2) shortening the expensive stay of preterm infants in hospitals as a result of accelerated organ maturation and the restoration of full enteral feeding. Further studies of fetal and neonatal arginine metabolism will continue to advance our understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the survival and growth of preterm infants. This new knowledge will be beneficial for designing the next generation of enteral and parenteral amino acid solutions to optimize nutrition and health in this compromised population.

published proceedings

  • J Nutr Biochem

altmetric score

  • 4.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Wu, G., Jaeger, L. A., Bazer, F. W., & Rhoads, J. M.

citation count

  • 174

complete list of authors

  • Wu, Guoyao||Jaeger, Laurie A||Bazer, Fuller W||Rhoads, J Marc

publication date

  • August 2004