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After studying this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Name the principal catabolites of the carbon skeletons of the protein amino acids and the major metabolic fates of these catabolites.

  • Write an equation for an aminotransferase (transaminase) reaction and illustrate the role played by the coenzyme.

  • Outline the metabolic pathways for each of the protein amino acids, and identify reactions associated with clinically significant metabolic disorders.

  • Provide examples of aminoacidurias that arise from defects in glomerular tubular reabsorption, and the consequences of impaired intestinal absorption of tryptophan.

  • Explain why metabolic defects in different enzymes of the catabolism of a specific amino acid can be associated with similar clinical signs and symptoms.

  • Describe the implications of a metabolic defect in Δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate dehydrogenase for the catabolism of proline and of 4-hydroxyproline.

  • Explain how the α-amino nitrogen of proline and of lysine is removed by processes other than transamination.

  • Draw analogies between the reactions that participate in the catabolism of fatty acids and of the branched-chain amino acids.

  • Identify the specific metabolic defects in hypervalinemia, maple syrup urine disease, intermittent branched-chain ketonuria, isovaleric acidemia, and methylmalonic aciduria.


Chapter 28 described the removal by transamination and the metabolic fate of the nitrogen atoms of most of the protein L-α-amino acids. This chapter addresses the metabolic fates of the resulting hydrocarbon skeletons of each of the protein amino acids, the enzymes and intermediates involved, and several associated metabolic diseases or “inborn errors of metabolism.” Most disorders of amino acid catabolism are rare, but if left untreated, they can result in irreversible brain damage and early mortality. Prenatal or early postnatal detection of metabolic disorders and timely initiation of treatment thus are essential. The ability to detect the activities of enzymes in cultured amniotic fluid cells facilitates prenatal diagnosis by amniocentesis. In the United States, all states conduct screening tests of newborns for up to 40 metabolic diseases, including disorders associated with defects in the catabolism of amino acids. The most reliable screening tests use tandem mass spectrometry to detect, in a few drops of neonate blood, catabolites suggestive of a given metabolic defect, and thereby implicate the absence or lowered activity of one or more specific enzymes.

Mutations either of a gene or of associated regulatory regions of DNA can result either in the failure to synthesize the encoded enzyme or in synthesis of a partially or completely nonfunctional enzyme. Mutations that affect enzyme activity, those that compromise its three-dimensional structure, or that disrupt its catalytic or regulatory sites, can have severe metabolic consequences. Low catalytic efficiency of a mutant enzyme can result from impaired positioning of residues involved in catalysis, or in binding a substrate, coenzyme, or metal ion. Mutations may also impair the ability of certain enzymes to respond appropriately to the signals that modulate their activity by altering an enzyme’s affinity for an allosteric regulator of ...

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