Alanine (symbol Ala or A) is an α-amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of proteins. It contains an amine group and a carboxylic acid group, both attached to the central carbon atom which also carries a methyl group side chain. Consequently, its IUPAC systematic name is 2-aminopropanoic acid, and it is classified as a nonpolar, aliphatic α-amino acid. Under biological conditions, it exists in its zwitterionic form with its amine group protonated (as −NH3+) and its carboxyl group deprotonated (as −CO2). It is non-essential to humans as it can be synthesised metabolically and does not need to be present in the diet. It is encodedby all codons starting with GC (GCU, GCC, GCA, and GCG).

The L-isomer of alanine (left-handed) is the one that is incorporated into proteins. L-Alanine is second only to leucine in rate of occurrence, accounting for 7.8% of the primary structure in a sample of 1,150 proteins.The right-handed form, D-alanine, occurs in polypeptides in some bacterial cell walls and in some peptide antibiotics, and occurs in the tissues of many crustaceans and molluscs as an osmolyte.

In mammals, alanine plays a key role in glucose–alanine cycle between tissues and liver. In muscle and other tissues that degrade amino acids for fuel, amino groups are collected in the form of glutamate by transamination. Glutamate can then transfer its amino group to pyruvate, a product of muscle glycolysis, through the action of alanine aminotransferase, forming alanine and α-ketoglutarate. The alanine enters the bloodstream, and is transported to the liver. The alanine aminotransferase reaction takes place in reverse in the liver, where the regenerated pyruvate is used in gluconeogenesis, forming glucose which returns to the muscles through the circulation system. Glutamate in the liver enters mitochondria and is broken down by glutamate dehydrogenase into α-ketoglutarate and ammonium, which in turn participates in the urea cycle to form urea which is excreted through the kidneys.

The glucose–alanine cycle enables pyruvate and glutamate to be removed from muscle and safely transported to the liver. Once there, pyruvate is used to regenerate glucose, after which the glucose returns to muscle to be metabolized for energy: this moves the energetic burden of gluconeogenesis to the liver instead of the muscle, and all available ATP in the muscle can be devoted to muscle contraction. It is a catabolic pathway, and relies upon protein breakdown in the muscle tissue. Whether and to what extent it occurs in non-mammals is unclear.
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