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2.2E: Types of Amino Acids

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  • There are 20 amino acids our body uses to synthesize proteins. These amino acids can be classified as essential, non-essential, or conditionally essential. The table below shows how the 20 amino acids are classified.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Essential, conditionally essential, and nonessential amino acids1
    Essential Conditionally Essential Non-essential
    Histidine Arginine Alanine
    Isoleucine Cysteine Asparagine
    Leucine Glutamine Aspartic Acid or Aspartate
    Lysine Glycine Glutamic Acid or Glutamate
    Methionine Proline Serine
    Phenylalanine Tyrosone

    The body cannot synthesize nine amino acids. Thus, it is essential that these are consumed in the diet. As a result these amino acids are known as essential, or indispensable, amino acids.

    Non-essential, or dispensable, amino acids can be made in our body, so we do not need to consume them. Conditionally essential amino acids become essential for individuals in certain situations. An example of a condition when an amino acid becomes essential is the disease phenylketonuria (PKU). Individuals with PKU have a mutation in the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase, which normally adds an alcohol group (OH) to the amino acid phenylalanine to form tyrosine as shown below.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Phenylketonuria (PKU) results from a mutation in the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase2,3

    Since tyrosine cannot be synthesized by people with PKU, it becomes essential for them. Thus, tyrosine is a conditionally essential amino acid. Individuals with PKU have to eat a very low protein diet and avoid the alternative sweetener aspartame, because it can be broken down to phenylalanine. If individuals with PKU consume too much phenylalanine, phenylalanine and its metabolites, can build up and cause brain damage and severe mental retardation. The drug Kuvan was approved for use with PKU patients in 2007 who have low phenylalanine hydroxylase activity levels.

    References & Links

    1. Anonymous. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Protein and Amino Acids. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. 2005


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