The mysteries of nitrogen balance

Nutrition Research Reviews
J C Waterlow


The first part of this review is concerned with the balance between N input and output as urinary urea. I start with some observations on classical biochemical studies of the operation of the urea cycle. According to Krebs, the cycle is instantaneous and automatic, as a result of the irreversibility of the first enzyme, carbamoyl-phosphate synthetase 1 (EC; CPS-I), and it should be able to handle many times the normal input to the cycle. It is now generally agreed that acetyl glutamate is a necessary co-factor for CPS-1, but not a regulator. There is abundant evidence that changes in dietary protein supply induce coordinated changes in the amounts of all five urea-cycle enzymes. How this coordination is achieved, and why it should be necessary in view of the properties of the cycle mentioned above, is unknown. At the physiological level it is not clear how a change in protein intake is translated into a change of urea cycle activity. It is very unlikely that the signal is an alteration in the plasma concentration either of total amino-N or of any single amino acid. The immediate substrates of the urea cycle are NH3 and aspartate, but there have been no measurements of their concentration in the liver in relation to urea...Continue Reading


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