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What is Transamination?

By Kristi L. Lenz
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Transamination, taken literally, means the transfer of an amino group from one molecule to another. In many organisms, this process is used both to synthesize and to degrade amino acids. One of the primary cellular benefits of the reaction is that it allows the transfer of an amino group without the formation of ammonia, which is a toxic byproduct. In humans, it occurs primarily in the liver, and is also known as aminotransfer.

Biochemically, this is an oxidation-reduction reaction that transfers the amino group from an amino acid to an alpha-keto acid. This results in the creation of a new amino acid and a new alpha-keto acid. By this definition, interconversion may actually be a better term to describe the exchange of amino groups. The alpha-keto acids formed can be converted into lipids, glucose, or glycogen. In this way, proteins obtained by dietary consumption can be used for current or future cell energy needs.

Transamination is also critical in humans for anabolic functions, such as the synthesis of non-essential amino acids. Humans need approximately 20 amino acids to build proteins, which are required to synthesize hormones and enzymes, and are involved in many physiologic functions. Eight amino acids are called essential, and must be obtained from dietary intake. The remaining amino acids are termed non-essential because the body can use other substances to synthesize them.

Of the non-essential amino acids, alanine, aspartate, and glutamate are among the most common. Glutamate is synthesized from alpha-ketoglutarate. This alpha-keto acid is created during the metabolism of dietary protein. Glutamate can then undergo transamination to form alanine and aspartate. All other non-essential amino acids are formed from these three.

Aminotransfer is facilitated by enzymes called aminotransferases or transaminases. These enzymes have broad activity, meaning that they can catalyze reactions with several different amino acid types. For activity, a co-factor is required and acts as an intermediate carrier of the amino group during the reaction. For transaminases, the required co-factor is pyridoxal phosphate, which is the active form of vitamin B6.

Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) are the two most common human transaminases. These two enzymes are found in many tissues in the body, including the liver and heart. If those tissues are damaged due to disease, the damaged cells release the enzymes into the bloodstream. Healthcare practitioners often measure ALT and AST in the blood to diagnosis and monitor damage to the liver.

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Discussion Comments
By anon285619 — On Aug 16, 2012

What is the link between transamination, urea cycle, citric acid cycle and gluconeogenesis?

By SteamLouis — On Jul 03, 2011

I've been a vegetarian my whole life and although I always tried to have a balanced diet, I ended being deficient in vitamin B6. There could be other reasons too, but my doctor says it's probably the lack of meat in my diet which has the most B6.

My doctor was making a very big deal out of it and said I need to start taking supplements right away or I might have to start eating meat! Of course, I started on the supplements but really wanted to know why vitamin B6 is so important.

At the very basic level, it turns out that vitamin B6 deficiency prevents transamination from happening. Without vitamin B6, amino acids can't transaminate or catabolise.

Then what happens? From what I understand, if transamination doesn't occur, the body starts breaking down and using protein instead of using carbohydrates or fats which are easier for the body to use and non-toxic. So it really messes up the entire process of using energy.

By discographer — On Jul 03, 2011

I read that if an amino acid cannot go through deamination, it goes through transamination. Can you tell me how that works?

By fify — On Jul 02, 2011

I was just tested on this in class! I read the article a couple of times before as additional preparation for the exam, I really hope I did well.

There was a fill in the blank about transamination on the exam. "Transamination is the first step of ________."

The answer is catabolism! Catabolism means the breakdown of amino acids. Amino acids are transferred into smaller groups so that they can be broken down to release energy later on.

Transamination is followed by glycolysis where glucose is broken down and oxidation where electrons are transferred to produce something called ATP.

At least I got this question right!

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