Assessment of Small Bowel Function in Critical Illness: Potential Role of Citrulline Metabolism


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Abstract

Small intestinal function in critically ill patients should ideally be assessed in order to determine the preferred feeding route, timing, and composition of enteral nutrition. Additionally, evaluation of small bowel function may lead to new insights aimed to maintain enterocyte integrity. Critically ill patients are likely to have impaired enterocyte function mainly as a consequence of diminished splanchnic blood flow associated with mucosal hyperpermeability and bacterial translocation, a pathological state believed to be pivotal in the development of sepsis and multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS). However, feasible and validated clinical tools to reliably assess enterocyte function are lacking. This explorative review discusses the promising role of citrulline, a nonprotein amino acid almost exclusively generated by the enterocyte, as a biomarker reflecting enterocyte function in critically ill patients. Citrulline metabolism, its potential as enterocyte biomarker, and literature on citrulline in critically illness will be discussed. Finally, a novel test for enterocyte function, the citrulline generation test (enterocytic citrulline production upon stimulation with enteral or intravenous glutamine) will be considered briefly.

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