Hospital General Juan Cardona.
Free ammonium ions are produced and consumed during cell metabolism. Glutamine synthetase utilizes free ammonium ions to produce glutamine in the cytosol whereas glutaminase and glutamate dehydrogenase generate free ammonium ions in the mitochondria from glutamine and glutamate, respectively. Ammonia and bicarbonate are condensed in the liver mitochondria to yield carbamoylphosphate initiating the urea cycle, the major mechanism of ammonium removal in humans. Healthy kidney produces ammonium which may be released into the systemic circulation or excreted into the urine depending predominantly on acid-base status, so that metabolic acidosis increases urinary ammonium excretion while metabolic alkalosis induces the opposite effect. Brain and skeletal muscle neither remove nor produce ammonium in normal conditions, but they are able to seize ammonium during hyperammonemia, releasing glutamine. Ammonia in gas phase has been detected in exhaled breath and skin, denoting that these organs may participate in nitrogen elimination. Ammonium homeostasis is profoundly altered in liver failure resulting in hyperammonemia due to the deficient ammonium clearance by the diseased liver and to the development of portal collateral circulation that diverts portal blood with high ammonium content to the systemic blood stream. Although blood ammonium concentration is usually elevated in liver disease, a substantial role of ammonium causing hepatic encephalopathy has not been demonstrated in human clinical studies. Hyperammonemia is also produced in urea cycle disorders and other situations leading to either defective ammonium removal or overproduction of ammonium that overcomes liver clearance capacity. Most diseases resulting in hyperammonemia and cerebral edema are preceded by hyperventilation and respiratory alkalosis of unclear origin that may be caused by the intracellular acidosis occurring in these conditions.
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