A purine is a heterocyclic aromatic organic compound that consists of a pyrimidine ring fused to an imidazole ring. Purine gives its name to the wider class of molecules, purines, which include substituted purines and their tautomers, are the most widely occurring nitrogen-containing heterocycle in nature. Purine is water soluble. Purines are found in high concentration in meat and meat products, especially internal organs such as liver and kidney.
Purines and pyrimidines make up the two groups of nitrogenous bases, including the two groups of nucleotide bases. Two of the four deoxyribonucleotides (deoxyadenosine and deoxyguanosine) and two of the four ribonucleotides (adenosine, or AMP, and guanosine, or GMP), the respective building blocks of DNA and RNA, are purines. In order to form DNA and RNA, both purines and pyrimidines are needed by the cell in approximately equal quantities. Both purine and pyrimidine are self-inhibiting and activating. When purines are formed, they inhibit the enzymes required for more purine formation. This self-inhibition occurs as they also activate the enzymes needed for pyrimidine formation. Pyrimidine simultaneously self-inhibits and activates purine in similar manner. Because of this, there is nearly an equal amount of both substances in the cell at all times.
Figure 1. Purines and pyrimidine bases.
Many organisms have metabolic pathways to synthesize and break down purines. Purines are biologically synthesized as nucleosides. Accumulation of modified purine nucleotides is defective to various cellular processes, especially those involving DNA and RNA. To be viable, organisms possess a number of (deoxy)purine phosphohydrolases, which hydrolyze these purine derivatives removing them from the active NTP and dNTP pools. Deamination of purine bases can result in accumulation of such nucleotides as ITP, dITP, XTP and dXTP. Defects in enzymes that control purine production and breakdown can severely alter a cell’s DNA sequences, which may explain why people who carry certain genetic variants of purine metabolic enzymes have a higher risk for some types of cancer. Higher levels of meat and seafood consumption are associated with an increased risk of gout, whereas a higher level of consumption of dairy products is associated with a decreased risk. Moderate intake of purine-rich vegetables or protein is not associated with an increased risk of gout.
Two or three decades ago, purines were recognized for primary two reasons: (1) as building blocks for DNA (the primary genetic material in our cells) and (2) as substances that could be broken down to form uric acid and potentially increase our risks of gout. Gout is a form of arthritis (sometimes called gouty arthritis) that can be extremely painful and results from excessive build-up of uric acid in our body, leading to formation of uric acid crystals that get can deposited in our joints. Beyond these two key areas of interest, purines did not enjoy a lot of mainstream attention in scientific research. Thanks to extensive research on the role of purines in the health of our cardiovascular system and digestive system (including our mouth, stomach, and intestines), we now know that purines have their own special receptor system on our cells that allow them to connect up with the cell membranes and have far-reaching effects. In our cardiovascular system, these effects include many aspects of heart function including blood flow and oxygen delivery. In the digestive system, there are impacts on fluid secretion and the movement of food as it undergoes the process of digestion. The initial discovery of two basic purine receptor families (P1 and P2) has now been followed by identification of at least four P1 subtypes; and a division of P2 into P2X and P2Y with seven subtypes of P2X ion channel receptors and eight subtypes of P2Y G-protein-coupled receptors. Going from 2 basic families to 19 different receptor types has allowed researchers to get much more specific about the potential of purines to influence our health, and dozens of studies are underway to determine exactly how "purinergic signalling" serves to impact our blood flow, heart function, inflammatory responses, experience of pain, digestive function, and absorption of nutrients.
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