uric acid

uric acid

uric acid, white, odorless, tasteless crystalline substance formed as a result of purine degradation in man, other primates, dalmatians, birds, snakes, and lizards. The last three groups of animals also channel all amino acid degradation into the formation of glycine, aspartic acid, and glutamine, which combine to form purines and finally uric acid; these so-called uricotelic organisms thus excrete uric acid as the major end-product of the metabolism of all nitrogen-containing compounds. Uric acid is a very weak organic acid that is barely soluble in water and insoluble in alcohol and ether. The urates are its salts. Uric acid is present in human urine only in extremely small amounts but constitutes a large part of the body waste matter of birds (see guano) and of reptiles. It collects sometimes in the human kidneys or bladder in calculi, or stones, and is responsible, when present in tissues or deposited upon bones in the form of urates, for gouty conditions (see gout). It occurs also in normal human blood. The pure acid is obtained from guano and other similar substances. Upon decomposition urea is obtained. A common test for the presence of the acid in urine depends upon the formation of murexide (an ammonium salt), which is an intense reddish purple. Nitric acid is added to the urine, which is then evaporated. If uric acid is present, murexide is formed when ammonia is added to the residue.

Heterocyclic compound of the purine type, the end product of metabolism of the purines in nucleic acids in many animals, including humans. It is excreted by reptiles and birds as the chief nitrogenous end product of protein breakdown. Small quantities are normally found in human blood; in gout, levels are abnormally high. Uric acid is used industrially in organic synthesis.

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Uric acid (or urate) is an organic compound of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen with the formula C5H4N4O3.

Metabolic processes

Xanthine oxidase oxidizes oxypurines such as xanthine and hypoxanthine to uric acid. In humans and higher primates, uric acid is the final oxidation product of purine catabolism. In most other mammals, the enzyme uricase further oxidizes uric acid to allantoin. The loss of uricase in higher primates parallels the similar loss of the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid. Both urate and ascorbate are strong reducing agents (electron donors) and potent antioxidants. In humans, over half the antioxidant capacity of plasma comes from uric acid.

Uric acid is also the end product of nitrogen catabolism in birds and reptiles. In such species, it is excreted in feces as a dry mass. While this compound is produced through a complex and energetically costly metabolic pathway (in comparison to other nitrogenated wastes such as urea or ammonia), its elimination minimizes water loss. It is therefore commonly found in the excretions of animals—such as the kangaroo rat—that live in very dry environments. The Dalmatian dog has a defect in uric acid uptake by liver, resulting in decreased conversion to allantoin, so this breed excretes uric acid, and not allantoin, in the urine.

Medical issues

Humans produce large quantities of uric acid. In human blood, uric acid concentrations between 3.6 mg/dL (~214µmol/L) and 8.3 mg/dL (~494µmol/L) (1mg/dL=59.48 µmol/L) are considered normal by the American Medical Association, although significantly lower levels are common in vegetarians due to a decreased intake of purine-rich meat.

High uric acid


Excess serum accumulation of uric acid can lead to a type of arthritis known as gout.

Elevated serum uric acid (hyperuricemia) can result from high intake of purine-rich foods, high fructose intake (regardless of fructose's low Glycemic Index (GI) value) and/or impaired excretion by the kidneys. Saturation levels of uric acid in blood may result in one form of kidney stones when the urate crystallizes in the kidney. These uric acid stones are radiolucent and so do not appear on an abdominal x-ray. Their presence must be diagnosed by ultrasound for this reason. Some patients with gout eventually get uric kidney stones.

Gout can occur where serum uric acid levels are as low as 6 mg/dL (~357µmol/L), but an individual can have serum values as high as 9.5 mg/dL (~565µmol/L) and not have gout (no abstract available; levels reported at ).

Lesch-Nyhan syndrome

Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, an extremely rare inherited disorder, is also associated with very high serum uric acid levels.

Spasticity, involuntary movement and cognitive retardation as well as manifestations of gout are seen in cases of this syndrome.

Cardiovascular disease

Although uric acid can act as an antioxidant, excess serum accumulation is often associated with cardiovascular disease. It is not known whether this is causative (e.g., by acting as a prooxidant ) or a protective reaction taking advantage of urate's antioxidant properties.


The association of high serum uric acid with insulin resistance has been known since the early part of the 20th century, nevertheless, recognition of high serum uric acid as a risk factor for diabetes has been a matter of debate. In fact, hyperuricemia has always been presumed to be a consequence of insulin resistance rather than its precursor . However, it was shown in a prospective follow-up study that high serum uric acid is associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes independent of obesity, dyslipidemia, and hypertension .

Metabolic syndrome

Hyperuricemia is associated with components of metabolic syndrome and it has been debated for a while to be a component of it. It has been shown in a recent study that fructose-induced hyperuricemia may play a pathogenic role in the metabolic syndrome. This agrees with the increased consumption of fructose-base drinks in recent decades and the epidemic of diabetes and obesity .

Uric Acid Stone Formation

Uric acid stones, which form in the absence of secondary causes such as chronic diarrhea, vigorous exercise, dehydration, and animal protein loading, are felt to be secondary to obesity and insulin resistance seen in metabolic syndrome. Increased dietary acid leads to increased endogenous acid production in the liver and muscles which in turn leads to an increased acid load to the kidneys. This load is handled more poorly because of renal fat infiltration and insulin resistance which are felt to impair ammonia excretion (a buffer). The urine is therefore quite acidic and uric acid becomes insoluble, crystallizes and stones form. In addition, naturally present promoter and inhibitor factors may be affected. This explains the the high prevalence of uric stones and unusually acid urine seen in patients with Type II diabetes. Uric acid crystals can also promote the formation of calcium oxalate stones, acting as "seed crystals" (heterogenous nucleation).

Low uric acid

Multiple sclerosis

Lower serum values of uric acid have been associated with Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients have been found to have serum levels ~194µmol/L, with patients in relapse averaging ~160µmol/L and patients in remission averaging ~230µmol/L. Serum uric acid in healthy controls was ~290µmol/L. Conversion factor: 1mg/dL=59.48 µmol/L

A 1998 study completed a statistical analysis of 20 million patient records, comparing serum uric acid values in patients with gout and patients with multiple sclerosis. Almost no overlap between the groups was found.

Uric acid has been successfully used in the treatment and prevention of the animal (murine) model of MS. A 2006 study found that elevation of serum uric acid values in multiple sclerosis patients, by oral supplementation with inosine, resulted in lower relapse rates, and no adverse effects.

Oxidative stress

Uric acid may be a marker of oxidative stress, and may have a potential therapeutic role as an antioxidant (PMID 16375736). On the other hand, like other strong reducing substances such as ascorbate, uric acid can also act as a prooxidant, particularly at elevated levels. Thus, it is unclear whether elevated levels of uric acid in diseases associated with oxidative stress such as stroke and atherosclerosis are a protective response or a primary cause.

For example, some researchers propose that hyperuricemia-induced oxidative stress is a cause of Metabolic syndrome. On the other hand, plasma uric acid levels correlate with longevity in primates and other mammals. This is presumably a function of urate's antioxidant properties.

Sources of uric acid

In many instances, people have elevated uric acid levels for hereditary reasons.

Diet may also be a factor.

Purines are found in high amounts in animal food products, especially internal organs.

Examples of high purine sources include: sweetbreads, anchovies, sardines, liver, beef kidneys, brains, meat extracts (e.g Oxo, Bovril), herring, mackerel, scallops, game meats, and gravy.

A moderate amount of purine is also contained in beef, pork, poultry, fish and seafood, asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, mushrooms, green peas, lentils, dried peas, beans, oatmeal, wheat bran and wheat germ.

Moderate intake of purine-containing food is not associated with an increased risk of gout.

Serum uric acid can be elevated due to high fructose intake , reduced excretion by the kidneys, and or high intake of dietary purine.

Added fructose can be found in processed foods and soda beverages as sucrose, or in some countries, as high fructose corn syrup.

Causes of low uric acid

Aside from avoidance of purine foods, both accumulated copper and low vitamin B2 can exacerbate low uric acid levels, which in turn is hypothesized to lead to myelin degeneration seen in multiple sclerosis.

Other uric acid facts

The high nitrogen content of uric acid makes guano a useful agricultural fertilizer.

The crystalline form of uric acid is used as a reflector in certain species of fireflies.

The uric acid in urine can also dry in a baby's diaper to form a pinkish powder that is harmless.

See also


External links

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