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Amino acid metabolism during prolonged starvation

Philip Felig, Oliver E. Owen, John Wahren and George F. Cahill, Jr.

Elliott P. Joslin Research Laboratory, Boston, Massachusetts 02215

Cardiovascular Unit, the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115

Cardiovascular Unit, Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115

Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115

Diabetes Foundation, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts 02215

Published March 1969

Plasma concentration, splanchnic and renal exchange, and urinary excretion of 20 amino acids were studied in obese subjects during prolonged (5-6 wk) starvation. Splanchnic amino acid uptake was also investigated in postabsorptive and briefly (36-48 hr) fasted subjects.

A transient increase in plasma valine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, and α-aminobutyrate was noted during the 1st wk of starvation. A delayed, progressive increase in glycine, threonine, and serine occurred after the 1st 5 days. 13 of the amino acids ultimately decreased in starvation, but the magnitude of this diminution was greatest for alanine which decreased most rapidly during the 1st week of fasting.

In all subjects alanine was extracted by the splanchnic circulation to a greater extent than all other amino acids combined. Brief fasting resulted in an increased arterio-hepatic venous difference for alanine due to increased fractional extraction. After 5-6 wk of starvation, a marked falloff in splanchnic alanine uptake was attributable to the decreased arterial concentration. Prolonged fasting resulted in increased glycine utilization by the kidney and in net renal uptake of alanine.

It is concluded that the marked decrease in plasma alanine is due to augmented and preferential splanchnic utilization of this amino acid in early starvation resulting in substrate depletion. Maintenance of the hypoalaninemia ultimately serves to diminish splanchnic uptake of this key glycogenic amino acid and is thus an important component of the regulatory mechanism whereby hepatic gluconeogenesis is diminished and protein catabolism is minimized in prolonged fasting. The altered renal extraction of glycine and alanine is not due to increased urinary excretion but may be secondary to the increased rate of renal gluconeogenesis observed in prolonged starvation.

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