Arginine and ornithine are precursors of nitric oxide and polyamines, respectively. These metabolites intimately participate in permeability and adaptive responses of the gut. The liver possesses high arginase activity as an intrinsic part of urea synthesis and would consume most of the portal supply of dietary arginine. The gut reduces this possibility by converting dietary arginine to citrulline, which effectively bypass the liver and is resynthesized to arginine in the kidney. Dietary ornithine supplementation, in the form of ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate (OKG) can be considered as an arginine precursor. Several supplement studies have shown both amino acids to promote growth hormone and insulin secretion with anabolic effects in postoperative patients. Their intermediary metabolites (for example, glutamine, proline) may also be of benefit in trauma metabolism. Specific effects of either amino acid on the gut are poorly reported. One recent animal study showed improved morphology after OKG administration, perhaps through increased polyamine secretion. Generation of nitric oxide from arginine has two facets. Excess production from high dose arginine potentiated the effects of experimentally induced sepsis, whereas low doses improved survival. These considerations suggest that the role of enteral diet supplementation with arginine or OKG should be urgently examined for any benefits it may have on mucosal barrier function.
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