Endogenous Synthesis of Amino Acids Limits Growth, Lactation, and Reproduction in Animals1,2

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Abstract

Amino acids (AAs) are building blocks of protein. Eight AAs (Ala, Asn, Asp, Glu, Gln, Gly, Pro, and Ser) are formed by all animals, whereas de novo synthesis of Arg occurs in a species-specific manner in most mammals (e.g., humans, pigs, and rats). Synthesizable AAs were traditionally classified as nutritionally nonessential for animals, because they were thought to be formed in sufficient amounts. However, this assumption is not supported by evidence showing that 1) rats grow slowly when their diets do not contain Arg, Glu, or Gln despite adequate provision of all other proteinogenous AAs; 2) pigs cannot achieve maximum growth, lactation, or reproduction performance when fed corn- and soybean meal-based diets meeting National Research Council-recommended requirements of protein and AAs without supplemental Arg, Glu, Gln, Gly, or Pro; 3) chickens exhibit increases in lean tissue gain and feed efficiency when their diets are supplemented with Glu, Gln, Gly, and Pro; 4) lactating cows cannot obtain maximum milk protein production without a postruminal supply of Gln or Pro; 5) fish cannot achieve maximum growth when diets do not contain Gln or Pro; and 6) men fail to sustain spermatogenesis when fed an Arg-deficient diet. Quantitative analysis of nitrogen metabolism showed that AA synthesis in animals is constrained by both precursor availability and enzyme activity. Taken together, these findings support the conclusion that the endogenous synthesis of AAs limits growth, lactation, and reproduction in animals. This new knowledge can guide the optimization of human nutrition for improving health and well-being.

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