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The role of the arginine metabolome in pain: implications for sickle cell disease

Authors Bakshi N, Morris C

Received 20 August 2015

Accepted for publication 22 December 2015

Published 30 March 2016 Volume 2016:9 Pages 167—175

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S55571

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Michael E Schatman


Nitya Bakshi,1–2 Claudia R Morris3–6

1Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA; 2Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, USA; 3Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA; 4Department of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA; 5Emory-Children’s Center for Cystic Fibrosis and Airways Disease Research, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA; 6Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, USA

Abstract: Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common hemoglobinopathy in the US, affecting approximately 100,000 individuals in the US and millions worldwide. Pain is the hallmark of SCD, and a subset of patients experience pain virtually all of the time. Of interest, the arginine metabolome is associated with several pain mechanisms highlighted in this review. Since SCD is an arginine deficiency syndrome, the contribution of the arginine metabolome to acute and chronic pain in SCD is a topic in need of further attention. Normal arginine metabolism is impaired in SCD through various mechanisms that contribute to endothelial dysfunction, vaso-occlusion, pulmonary complications, risk of leg ulcers, and early mortality. Arginine is a semiessential amino acid that serves as a substrate for protein synthesis and is the precursor to nitric oxide (NO), polyamines, proline, glutamate, creatine, and agmatine. Since arginine is involved in multiple metabolic processes, a deficiency of this amino acid has the potential to disrupt many cellular and organ functions. NO is a potent vasodilator that is depleted in SCD and may contribute to vaso-occlusive pain. As the obligate substrate for NO production, arginine also plays a mechanistic role in SCD-related pain, although its contribution to pain pathways likely extends beyond NO. Low global arginine bioavailability is associated with pain severity in both adults and children with SCD as well as other non-SCD pain syndromes. Preliminary clinical studies of arginine therapy in SCD demonstrate efficacy in treating acute vaso-occlusive pain, as well as leg ulcers and pulmonary hypertension. Restoration of arginine bioavailability through exogenous supplementation of arginine is, therefore, a promising therapeutic target. Phase II clinical trials of arginine therapy for sickle-related pain are underway and a Phase III randomized controlled trial is anticipated in the near future.

Keywords: arginine, arginase, sickle cell disease, pain, global arginine bioavailability ratio, nitric oxide

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