Arginine and immune function

Arginine given in large doses has a unique effect on T-cell function. T lymphocytes are essential for wounding, and the depletion of arginine significantly impairs the wound healing response. Arginine acts as a thymotropic agent and stimulates in vitro and in vivo T-cell response. Arginine also reduces the inhibitory effect of injury and wounding on T-cell function. Supplemental dietary arginine increases thymic weight in uninjured rats and minimizes the thymic involution that occurs with injury. The gain in thymic weight is due to significant increases in the lymphocyte content of the thymic glands. In healthy humans, arginine enhances the mitogenic activity of peripheral blood lymphocytes and greatly reduces posttraumatic impairment in lymphocyte blastogenesis.14 The trophic effect that arginine exerts on the thymus results in improved host immunity. Saito et al. showed that diets containing 2% arginine of the total nonprotein calories increased survival and improved delayed hypersensitivity in a third-degree 30% body surface burn model in guinea pigs. In a study of severely burned children, it was noted that plasma arginine had a high correlation with a number of parameters, indicating resistance to infection, such as total protein, albumin, transferrin, and C3 levels. The exact mechanism of the arginine thymotropic effect is not known. It has been postulated that the thymic effects may be related to the pituitary secretagogue activity, because hypophysectomized rats fail to attain an adequate immune response, which can be reversed by giving them prolactin or growth hormone (Table 6.1).15,16

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