Abbrev. R Arg
Full Name Arginine
Side chain type
pKr (R) 12.48

Side chain -(CH2)3NH-C(NH)NH2
Hydro- phobic
Aromatic or Aliphatic
van der Waals volume
Occurrence in proteins (%)

Remarks: Functionally similar to lysine.

Arginine (Arg) is an α-amino acid. The L-form is one of the 20 most common natural amino acids. In mammals, arginine is classified as a semiessential or conditionally essential amino acid, depending on the developmental stage and health status of the individual.


Arginine can be considered to be an amphipathic amino acid as the part of the side chain nearest to the backbone is long, carbon-containing and hydrophobic, whereas the end of the side chain is a complex guanidinium group. With pKa > 12, the guanidinium group is positively charged in neutral and acidic environments. Because of the conjugation between the double bond and the nitrogen lone pairs, the positive charge is delocalized. This group is able to form multiple H-bonds.


Arginine is synthesized from citrulline by the sequential action of the cytosolic enzymes argininosuccinate synthetase (ASS) and argininosuccinate lyase (ASL). This is energetically costly, as the synthesis of each molecule of argininosuccinate requires hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to adenosine monophosphate (AMP); i.e., two ATP equivalents.

Citrulline can be derived from multiple sources:

-from arginine via nitric oxide synthase (NOS);
-from ornithine via catabolism of proline or glutamine/glutamate;
-from asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA) via DDAH.
The pathways linking arginine, glutamine, and proline are bidirectional. Thus, the net utilization or production of these amino acids is highly dependent on cell type and developmental stage.

On a whole-body basis, synthesis of arginine occurs principally via the intestinal–renal axis, wherein epithelial cells of the small intestine, which produce citrulline primarily from glutamine and glutamate, collaborate with the proximal tubule cells of the kidney, which extract citrulline from the circulation and convert it to arginine, which is returned to the circulation. Consequently, impairment of small bowel or renal function can reduce endogenous arginine synthesis, thereby increasing the dietary requirement.

Synthesis of arginine from citrulline also occurs at a low level in many other cells, and cellular capacity for arginine synthesis can be markedly increased under circumstances that also induce iNOS. Thus, citrulline, a coproduct of the NOS-catalyzed reaction, can be recycled to arginine in a pathway known as the citrulline-NO or arginine-citrulline pathway. This is demonstrated by the fact that in many cell types, citrulline can substitute for arginine to some degree in supporting NO synthesis. However, recycling is not quantitative because citrulline accumulates along with nitrate and nitrite, the stable end-products of NO, in NO-producing cells.


Arginine plays an important role in cell division, the healing of wounds, removing ammonia from the body, immune function, and the release of hormones.

In proteins

The geometry, charge distribution and ability to form multiple H-bonds make arginine ideal for binding negatively charged groups. For this reason arginine prefers to be on the outside of the proteins where it can interact with the polar environment. Incorporated in proteins, arginine can also be converted to citrulline by PAD enzymes. In addition, arginine can be methylated by protein methyltransferases.

As a precursor

Arginine is the immediate precursor of NO, urea, ornithine and agmatine; is necessary for the synthesis of creatine; and can be used for the synthesis of polyamines (mainly through ornithine and to a lesser degree through agmatine), citrulline, and glutamate. For being a precursor of NO, (relaxes blood vessels), arginine is in used in many conditions where vasodilation is required. The presence of asymmetric dimethylargine (ADMA), a close relative, inhibits the nitric oxide reaction; therefore, ADMA is considered a marker for vascular disease, just as L-arginine is considered a sign of a healthy endothelium.

Implication in herpes simplex viral replication

Tissue culture studies have shown the suppression of viral replication when the lysine to arginine ratio in vitro favours lysine. The therapeutic consequence of this finding is unclear, but dietary arginine may affect the effectiveness of lysine supplementation


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