Immune Functions

As indicated in Chapter 1, cysteine and BCAA have been tentatively assigned with immunological functions. However, more recent evidence from clinical studies suggests that other amino acids may function as immune modulators (Table 26.8). There may be health implications for farm and companion animals.

Reference has already been made to the role of NO in immunocompetence. Suchner et al. (2002) have reviewed the clinical evidence suggesting that NO may help in the regulation of inflammation and in enhancing the depressed immune response of patients suffering from injury, surgical trauma, malnutrition or sepsis. Exogenous source of arginine also imparts beneficial responses in terms of increased monocyte and lymphocyte proliferation and T-helper cell formation. Activation of macrophage cytotoxicity and increased cytokine production were also observed. However, the authors cautioned against the routine clinical use of exogenous arginine.

Table 26.8. Amino acids as immune modulators. Amino acid Role

The case for glutamine as an immune modulator (Tables 26.6 and 26.8) would appear to be particularly strong, when clinical evidence is considered (Andrews and Griffiths, 2002). All the diverse cells of the immune system appear to be dependent on glutamine for proper functioning. Glutamine not fully utilized for energy may become available for the functioning of:

  • monocytes and macrophages;
  • lymphocytes;
  • neutrophils.

Phagocytosis in macrophages appears to be glutamine-dependent and this amino acid also significantly enhances phytohaemagglutinin-stimulated lymphocyte proliferation, production of intracellular reactive oxygen species and glutathione (see Andrews and Griffiths, 2002). There also appears to be some potential for glutamine supplementation in bone marrow transplantation (Ziegler, 2002).

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