Glutamine is the most abundant and versatile amino acid in the body. In health and disease, the rate of glutamine consumption by immune cells is similar or greater than glucose. For instance, in vitro and in vivo studies have determined that glutamine is an essential nutrient for lymphocyte proliferation and cytokine production, macrophage phagocytic plus secretory activities, and neutrophil bacterial killing. Glutamine release to the circulation and availability is mainly controlled by key metabolic organs, such as the gut, liver, and skeletal muscles. During catabolic/hypercatabolic situations glutamine can become essential for metabolic function, but its availability may be compromised due to the impairment of homeostasis in the inter-tissue metabolism of amino acids. For this reason, glutamine is currently part of clinical nutrition supplementation protocols and/or recommended for immune suppressed individuals. However, in a wide range of catabolic/hypercatabolic situations (e.g., ill/critically ill, post-trauma, sepsis, exhausted athletes), it is currently difficult to determine whether glutamine supplementation (oral/enteral or parenteral) should be recommended based on the amino acid plasma/bloodstream concentration (also known as glutaminemia). Although the beneficial immune-based effects of glutamine supplementation are already established, many questions and evidence for positive in vivo outcomes still remain to be presented. Therefore, this paper provides an integrated review of how glutamine metabolism in key organs is important to cells of the immune system. We also discuss glutamine metabolism and action, and important issues related to the effects of glutamine supplementation in catabolic situations.
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