Inhibition of brain glutamine accumulation prevents cerebral edema in hyperammonemic rats

H. Takahashi, R. C. Koehler, S. W. Brusilow, R. J. Traystman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

231 Scopus citations


The mechanism of brain swelling during hyperammonemia is not understood, but glutamine accumulation is consistently observed. We tested the hypothesis that brain swelling associated with hyperammonemia is a consequence of the osmotic effect of intracellular glutamine accumulation in brain. Increases in plasma ammonium levels from 31 ± 3 to 601 ± 38 μmol/l (±SE) were produced by 6 h of infusion of ammonium acetate in anesthetized rats. Hyperammonemia resulted in increased brain water content accompanied by more than a tripling of brain glutamine concentration compared with control rats receiving sodium acetate (5.6 ± 0.4 vs. 18.8 ± 0.4 mmol/kg). Inhibition of glutamine synthetase activity by pretreatment with L-methionine sulfoximine prevented both the increase in brain glutamine levels and the increase in brain water content despite elevated plasma ammonium levels (908 ± 196 μmol/l). Thus cerebral edema during hyperammonemia is associated with glutamine accumulation. We suggest that accumulated glutamine may serve as an idiogenic osmole causing swelling. Because brain swelling eventually leads to increased intracranial pressure and tissue hypoxia, these data suggest a unifying mechanism to account for the many pathophysiological abnormalities found during coma associated with various forms of liver disease, inborn errors of metabolism, and Reye's syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H825-H829
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number3 30-3
StatePublished - 1991


  • Ammonia
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamine synthetase
  • Methionine sulfoximine
  • Specific gravity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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