Phenylalanine
Overview
 
Phenylalanine is an α-amino acid
Amino acid
Amino acids are molecules containing an amine group, a carboxylic acid group and a side-chain that varies between different amino acids. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen...

 with the formula
Chemical formula
A chemical formula or molecular formula is a way of expressing information about the atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound....

 C6H5CH2CH(NH2)COOH. This essential amino acid
Essential amino acid
An essential amino acid or indispensable amino acid is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized de novo by the organism , and therefore must be supplied in the diet.-Essentiality vs. conditional essentiality in humans:...

 is classified as nonpolar because of the hydrophobic nature of the benzyl
Benzyl
In organic chemistry, benzyl is the term used to describe the substituent or molecular fragment possessing the structure C6H5CH2-. Benzyl features a benzene ring attached to a CH2 group.-Nomenclature:...

 side chain. L-Phenylalanine (LPA) is an electrically neutral amino acid
Amino acid
Amino acids are molecules containing an amine group, a carboxylic acid group and a side-chain that varies between different amino acids. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen...

, one of the twenty common amino acids used to biochemically form protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s, coded for by DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

. The codons for L-phenylalanine are UUU and UUC.
Encyclopedia
Phenylalanine is an α-amino acid
Amino acid
Amino acids are molecules containing an amine group, a carboxylic acid group and a side-chain that varies between different amino acids. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen...

 with the formula
Chemical formula
A chemical formula or molecular formula is a way of expressing information about the atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound....

 C6H5CH2CH(NH2)COOH. This essential amino acid
Essential amino acid
An essential amino acid or indispensable amino acid is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized de novo by the organism , and therefore must be supplied in the diet.-Essentiality vs. conditional essentiality in humans:...

 is classified as nonpolar because of the hydrophobic nature of the benzyl
Benzyl
In organic chemistry, benzyl is the term used to describe the substituent or molecular fragment possessing the structure C6H5CH2-. Benzyl features a benzene ring attached to a CH2 group.-Nomenclature:...

 side chain. L-Phenylalanine (LPA) is an electrically neutral amino acid
Amino acid
Amino acids are molecules containing an amine group, a carboxylic acid group and a side-chain that varies between different amino acids. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen...

, one of the twenty common amino acids used to biochemically form protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s, coded for by DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

. The codons for L-phenylalanine are UUU and UUC. Phenylalanine is a precursor for tyrosine
Tyrosine
Tyrosine or 4-hydroxyphenylalanine, is one of the 22 amino acids that are used by cells to synthesize proteins. Its codons are UAC and UAU. It is a non-essential amino acid with a polar side group...

, the monoamine signaling molecules dopamine
Dopamine
Dopamine is a catecholamine neurotransmitter present in a wide variety of animals, including both vertebrates and invertebrates. In the brain, this substituted phenethylamine functions as a neurotransmitter, activating the five known types of dopamine receptors—D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5—and their...

, norepinephrine
Norepinephrine
Norepinephrine is the US name for noradrenaline , a catecholamine with multiple roles including as a hormone and a neurotransmitter...

 (noradrenaline), and epinephrine
Epinephrine
Epinephrine is a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, dilates air passages and participates in the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system. In chemical terms, adrenaline is one of a group of monoamines called the catecholamines...

 (adrenaline), and the skin pigment
Pigment
A pigment is a material that changes the color of reflected or transmitted light as the result of wavelength-selective absorption. This physical process differs from fluorescence, phosphorescence, and other forms of luminescence, in which a material emits light.Many materials selectively absorb...

 melanin
Melanin
Melanin is a pigment that is ubiquitous in nature, being found in most organisms . In animals melanin pigments are derivatives of the amino acid tyrosine. The most common form of biological melanin is eumelanin, a brown-black polymer of dihydroxyindole carboxylic acids, and their reduced forms...

.

Phenylalanine is found naturally in the breast milk of mammals. It is used in the manufacture of food and drink products and sold as a nutritional supplement for its reputed analgesic
Analgesic
An analgesic is any member of the group of drugs used to relieve pain . The word analgesic derives from Greek an- and algos ....

 and antidepressant
Antidepressant
An antidepressant is a psychiatric medication used to alleviate mood disorders, such as major depression and dysthymia and anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder. According to Gelder, Mayou &*Geddes people with a depressive illness will experience a therapeutic effect to their mood;...

 effects. It is a direct precursor to the neuromodulator phenylethylamine, a commonly used dietary supplement.

Other biological roles

L-Phenylalanine is biologically converted into L-tyrosine
Tyrosine
Tyrosine or 4-hydroxyphenylalanine, is one of the 22 amino acids that are used by cells to synthesize proteins. Its codons are UAC and UAU. It is a non-essential amino acid with a polar side group...

, another one of the DNA-encoded amino acids. L-tyrosine in turn is converted into L-DOPA, which is further converted into dopamine
Dopamine
Dopamine is a catecholamine neurotransmitter present in a wide variety of animals, including both vertebrates and invertebrates. In the brain, this substituted phenethylamine functions as a neurotransmitter, activating the five known types of dopamine receptors—D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5—and their...

, norepinephrine
Norepinephrine
Norepinephrine is the US name for noradrenaline , a catecholamine with multiple roles including as a hormone and a neurotransmitter...

 (noradrenaline), and epinephrine
Epinephrine
Epinephrine is a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, dilates air passages and participates in the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system. In chemical terms, adrenaline is one of a group of monoamines called the catecholamines...

 (adrenaline). The latter three are known as the catecholamines.

Phenylalanine uses the same active transport channel as tryptophan
Tryptophan
Tryptophan is one of the 20 standard amino acids, as well as an essential amino acid in the human diet. It is encoded in the standard genetic code as the codon UGG...

 to cross the blood-brain barrier
Blood-brain barrier
The blood–brain barrier is a separation of circulating blood and the brain extracellular fluid in the central nervous system . It occurs along all capillaries and consists of tight junctions around the capillaries that do not exist in normal circulation. Endothelial cells restrict the diffusion...

, and, in large quantities, interferes with the production of serotonin
Serotonin
Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter. Biochemically derived from tryptophan, serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract, platelets, and in the central nervous system of animals including humans...

.

In plants

Phenylalanine is the starting compound used in the flavonoid biosynthesis
Flavonoid biosynthesis
Flavonoids are synthesized by the phenylpropanoid metabolic pathway in which the amino acid phenylalanine is used to produce 4-coumaroyl-CoA. This can be combined with malonyl-CoA to yield the true backbone of flavonoids, a group of compounds called chalcones, which contain two phenyl rings...

. Lignan
Lignan
The lignans are a group of chemical compounds found in plants. Lignans are one of the major classes of phytoestrogens, which are estrogen-like chemicals and also act as antioxidants. The other classes of phytoestrogens are the isoflavones and coumestans...

 is derived from phenylalanine and from tyrosine
Tyrosine
Tyrosine or 4-hydroxyphenylalanine, is one of the 22 amino acids that are used by cells to synthesize proteins. Its codons are UAC and UAU. It is a non-essential amino acid with a polar side group...

. Phenylalanine is converted to cinnamic acid
Cinnamic acid
Cinnamic acid is a white crystalline organic acid, which is slightly soluble in water.It is obtained from oil of cinnamon, or from balsams such as storax. It is also found in shea butter and is the best indication of its environmental history and post-extraction conditions...

 by the enzyme phenylalanine ammonia-lyase
Phenylalanine ammonia-lyase
In enzymology, a phenylalanine ammonia-lyase is an enzyme that catalyzes the chemical reactionHence, this enzyme has one substrate, L-phenylalanine, and two products, trans-cinnamic acid and ammonia....

.

Phenylketonuria

The genetic disorder phenylketonuria
Phenylketonuria
Phenylketonuria is an autosomal recessive metabolic genetic disorder characterized by a mutation in the gene for the hepatic enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase , rendering it nonfunctional. This enzyme is necessary to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine to the amino acid tyrosine...

 (PKU) is the inability to metabolize phenylalanine. Individuals with this disorder are known as "phenylketonurics" and must regulate their intake of phenylalanine. A (rare) "variant form" of phenylketonuria called hyperphenylalaninemia is caused by the inability to synthesize a coenzyme called biopterin
Biopterin
Biopterin is a coenzyme that is produced within the body.It is an oxidized degradation product of tetrahydrobiopterin.Defects in biopterin synthesis or regeneration can cause a form of hyperphenylalaninemia ....

, which can be supplemented. Pregnant women with hyperphenylalaninemia may show similar symptoms of the disorder (high levels of phenylalanine in blood) but these indicators will usually disappear at the end of gestation. Individuals who cannot metabolize phenylalanine must monitor their intake of protein to control the buildup of phenylalanine as their bodies convert protein into its component amino acids.

Phenylketonurics often use blood tests to monitor the amount of phenylalanine in their blood. Lab results may report phenylalanine levels in different units, including mg/dL and umol/L. One mg/dL of phenylalanine is approximately equivalent to 60 umol/L.

A non-food source of phenylalanine is the artificial sweetener aspartame
Aspartame
Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. In the European Union, it is codified as E951. Aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide. It was first sold under the brand name NutraSweet; since 2009 it...

. This compound, sold under the trade names "Equal" and "NutraSweet", is metabolized by the body into several chemical byproducts including phenylalanine. The breakdown problems phenylketonurics have with protein and the attendant build up of phenylalanine in the body also occurs with the ingestion of aspartame, although to a lesser degree. Accordingly, all products in Australia, the U.S. and Canada that contain aspartame must be labeled: "Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine." In the UK, foods containing aspartame must carry ingredient panels that refer to the presence of "aspartame or E951" and they must be labeled with a warning "Contains a source of phenylalanine." These warnings are specifically placed to aid individuals who suffer from PKU
Phenylketonuria
Phenylketonuria is an autosomal recessive metabolic genetic disorder characterized by a mutation in the gene for the hepatic enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase , rendering it nonfunctional. This enzyme is necessary to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine to the amino acid tyrosine...

 so that they can avoid such foods.

Geneticists have recently sequenced the genome of macaques. Their investigations have found "some instances where the normal form of the macaque protein looks like the diseased human protein" including markers for PKU.

D- and DL-phenylalanine

The stereoisomer D-phenylalanine (DPA) can be produced by conventional organic synthesis
Organic synthesis
Organic synthesis is a special branch of chemical synthesis and is concerned with the construction of organic compounds via organic reactions. Organic molecules can often contain a higher level of complexity compared to purely inorganic compounds, so the synthesis of organic compounds has...

, either as a single enantiomer
Enantiomer
In chemistry, an enantiomer is one of two stereoisomers that are mirror images of each other that are non-superposable , much as one's left and right hands are the same except for opposite orientation. It can be clearly understood if you try to place your hands one over the other without...

 or as a component of the racemic
Racemic
In chemistry, a racemic mixture, or racemate , is one that has equal amounts of left- and right-handed enantiomers of a chiral molecule. The first known racemic mixture was "racemic acid", which Louis Pasteur found to be a mixture of the two enantiomeric isomers of tartaric acid.- Nomenclature :A...

 mixture. It does not participate in protein biosynthesis
Protein biosynthesis
Protein biosynthesis is the process in which cells build or manufacture proteins. The term is sometimes used to refer only to protein translation but more often it refers to a multi-step process, beginning with amino acid synthesis and transcription of nuclear DNA into messenger RNA, which is then...

 although it is found in proteins in small amounts - particularly aged proteins and food proteins that have been processed. The biological functions of D-amino acids remain unclear although some, such as D-phenylalanine, may have pharmacological activity.

DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA) is marketed as a nutritional supplement for its supposed analgesic
Analgesic
An analgesic is any member of the group of drugs used to relieve pain . The word analgesic derives from Greek an- and algos ....

 and antidepressant
Antidepressant
An antidepressant is a psychiatric medication used to alleviate mood disorders, such as major depression and dysthymia and anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder. According to Gelder, Mayou &*Geddes people with a depressive illness will experience a therapeutic effect to their mood;...

 activities. DL-Phenylalanine is a mixture of D-Phenylalanine and L-Phenylalanine. The reputed analgesic activity of DL-phenylalanine may be explained by the possible blockage by D-phenylalanine of enkephalin
Enkephalin
An enkephalin is a pentapeptide involved in regulating nociception in the body. The enkephalins are termed endogenous ligands, or specifically endorphins, as they are internally derived and bind to the body's opioid receptors. Discovered in 1975, two forms of enkephalin were revealed, one...

 (endorphin) degradation
Chemical decomposition
Chemical decomposition, analysis or breakdown is the separation of a chemical compound into elements or simpler compounds. It is sometimes defined as the exact opposite of a chemical synthesis. Chemical decomposition is often an undesired chemical reaction...

 by the enzyme
Enzyme
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates...

 carboxypeptidase A
Carboxypeptidase A
Carboxypeptidase A usually refers to the pancreatic exopeptidase which hydrolyzes peptide bonds of C-terminal residues with aromatic or aliphatic side chains...

. The mechanism of DL-phenylalanine's supposed antidepressant activity may be accounted for by the precursor
Protein precursor
A protein precursor, also called a pro-protein or pro-peptide, is an inactive protein that can be turned into an active form by posttranslational modification. The name of the precursor for a protein is often prefixed by pro...

 role of L-phenylalanine in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine
Norepinephrine
Norepinephrine is the US name for noradrenaline , a catecholamine with multiple roles including as a hormone and a neurotransmitter...

 and dopamine
Dopamine
Dopamine is a catecholamine neurotransmitter present in a wide variety of animals, including both vertebrates and invertebrates. In the brain, this substituted phenethylamine functions as a neurotransmitter, activating the five known types of dopamine receptors—D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5—and their...

. Elevated brain levels of norepinephrine and dopamine are thought to have an antidepressant effect. Also, as DL-phenylalanine inhibits endorphin degradation, this leads to an inhibition of GABA release in the ventral tegmental neurons (in the midbrain), which results in greater dopamine release. This can explain the analgesic effects following ingestion, D-Phenylalanine is absorbed from the small intestine and transported to the liver via the portal circulation. A small amount of D-phenylalanine appears to be converted to L-phenylalanine. D-Phenylalanine is distributed to the various tissues of the body via the systemic circulation
Systemic circulation
Systemic circulation is the part of the cardiovascular system which carries oxygenated blood away from the heart to the body, and returns deoxygenated blood back to the heart. This physiologic theory of circulation was first described by William Harvey...

. It appears to cross the blood-brain barrier
Blood-brain barrier
The blood–brain barrier is a separation of circulating blood and the brain extracellular fluid in the central nervous system . It occurs along all capillaries and consists of tight junctions around the capillaries that do not exist in normal circulation. Endothelial cells restrict the diffusion...

 less efficiently than L-phenylalanine, and so a small amount of an ingested dose of D-phenylalanine is excreted in the urine
Urine
Urine is a typically sterile liquid by-product of the body that is secreted by the kidneys through a process called urination and excreted through the urethra. Cellular metabolism generates numerous by-products, many rich in nitrogen, that require elimination from the bloodstream...

 without penetrating the central nervous system.

Commercial synthesis

L-Phenylalanine is produced for medical, feed, and nutritional applications, such as Aspartame
Aspartame
Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. In the European Union, it is codified as E951. Aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide. It was first sold under the brand name NutraSweet; since 2009 it...

, in large quantities by utilizing the bacterium Escherichia coli
Escherichia coli
Escherichia coli is a Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms . Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some serotypes can cause serious food poisoning in humans, and are occasionally responsible for product recalls...

, which naturally produces aromatic amino acids like phenylalanine. The quantity of L-phenylalanine produced commercially has been increased by genetically engineering
Genetic engineering
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest...

 E. coli, such as by altering the regulatory promoters or amplifying the number of genes
Gênes
Gênes is the name of a département of the First French Empire in present Italy, named after the city of Genoa. It was formed in 1805, when Napoleon Bonaparte occupied the Republic of Genoa. Its capital was Genoa, and it was divided in the arrondissements of Genoa, Bobbio, Novi Ligure, Tortona and...

 controlling enzymes responsible for the synthesis of the amino acid.

History

The genetic codon for phenylalanine was first discovered by J. Heinrich Matthaei and Marshall W. Nirenberg in 1961. They showed that by using m-RNA
RNA
Ribonucleic acid , or RNA, is one of the three major macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life....

 to insert multiple uracil
Uracil
Uracil is one of the four nucleobases in the nucleic acid of RNA that are represented by the letters A, G, C and U. The others are adenine, cytosine, and guanine. In RNA, uracil binds to adenine via two hydrogen bonds. In DNA, the uracil nucleobase is replaced by thymine.Uracil is a common and...

 repeats into the genome
Genome
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA....

 of the bacterium E. coli
Escherichia coli
Escherichia coli is a Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms . Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some serotypes can cause serious food poisoning in humans, and are occasionally responsible for product recalls...

, they could cause the bacterium to produce a polypeptide consisting solely of repeated phenylalanine amino acids. This discovery helped to establish the nature of the coding relationship that links information stored in genomic
Genome
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA....

 nucleic acid with protein expression
Proteome
The proteome is the entire set of proteins expressed by a genome, cell, tissue or organism. More specifically, it is the set of expressed proteins in a given type of cells or an organism at a given time under defined conditions. The term is a portmanteau of proteins and genome.The term has been...

in the living cell.

External links

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