What is Aspartic Acid? - Production, Structure & Benefits

Instructor: Giulietta Spudich

Giulietta has taught college students, graduate students and researchers in scientific topics from genomics to biochemistry. She has a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology.

Aspartic acid is an amino acid that plays multiple roles in the body. In this lesson, we'll explore some of its functions, how it's produced and its two main configurations, as well as discussing the benefits of aspartic acid.

Aspartic Acid: An Important Amino Acid

Can you imagine life without amino acids? Humans share these fundamental building blocks with microorganisms, plants and other animals. Of the more than 500 amino acids known to us, the human genetic code contains 20. Life would be very different without these organic compounds--in fact, every protein in our bodies is made of a combination of these 20 amino acids. One of these important amino acids in human proteins is known as aspartic acid (also called aspartate and abbreviated as Asp), which we will explore in greater detail below.

Structure and Benefits

There are two configurations of aspartic acid: the 'L' and 'D' forms. Let's look at each.

L-aspartic acid

For the most part, biological organisms make the L-form. In the image below, you can view the chemical structure of aspartic acid in the L-confirmation (notice how the amide group NH2 is pointing out toward you).

L-aspartic acid

In the L-confirmation, aspartic acid is a building block for the production of proteins, and it aids in many bodily functions, including the urea cycle and gluconeogenesis (where glucose is formed by the body). It also helps run the Krebs Cycle, a process that generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As you might know, ATP is one of the major fuels that runs various biological processes. Specifically, aspartic acid allows NADH, a precursor of ATP, to move into mitochondria so that cells can complete the Krebs Cycle. In other words, aspartic acid makes sure a necessary ingredient for ATP is in the right place.

Aspartic acid also works as a neurotransmitter, meaning it helps nerve cells communicate with each other. Some people say ingesting L-aspartic acid chases away tiredness. Additionally, this form of the amino acid is one of the ingredients used to make aspartame, an artificial sweetener.

D-aspartic acid

In the image below, you can see the less common formation of this amino acid, D-aspartic acid (notice that the amide group NH2 is pointing away from you).

D-aspartic acid

Compared to L-aspartic acid, D-aspartic acid is present in low amounts in the human body. This form of aspartic acid is often taken as a supplement due to its many potential benefits to the body. For instance, it serves as a testosterone synthesis regulator, providing a temporary boost in the testosterone hormone and making it popular among athletes. It is also believed to boost fertility among men.

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