Astrocyte metabolism of [15N]glutamine: implications for the glutamine-glutamate cycle

M. Yudkoff, I. Nissim, David E Pleasure

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110 Scopus citations


The metabolism of glutamine was studied in cultured astrocytes by incubating these cells with [2-15N]glutamine and using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to quantitate the transfer of 15N to other amino acids. We found that astrocytes simultaneously synthesize and consume [2-15N]glutamine, with the respective synthetic and utilization rates being approximately equal (ca. 13.0 nmol min-1 mg protein-1). Considerable 15N was transferred to alanine and a significant amount to the essential amino acids leucine, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, the latter process denoting active reamination of cognate ketoacids. A net export of alanine into the medium was noted. Astrocyte glutamine utilization appeared to be mediated via both the phosphate-activated glutaminase (PAG) pathway and the glutamine aminotransferase pathway, the activity of which was about half that of PAG. The glutamine concentration in the incubation medium determined whether net synthesis or utilization of this amino acid occurred. When glutamine was omitted from the medium, net synthesis occurred. When it was present at a high (5 mM) level, net consumption was observed. At a physiologic (0.5 mM) concentration, neither net synthesis nor consumption was noted, although the 15N data indicated that glutamine was actively metabolized. An implication of this work is that astrocytes clearly are capable of both synthesizing and utilizing glutamine, and current concepts of a glutamate-glutamine cycle functioning stoichiometrically between astrocytes and neurons may be an oversimplification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-850
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neurochemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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