Enhanced protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after ingestion of a balanced meal in postabsorptive rats is mimicked by oral leucine administration. To assess the contribution of insulin to the protein synthetic response to leucine, food-deprived (18 h) male rats (approximately 200 g) were intravenously administered a primed-constant infusion of somatostatin (60 microg + 3 microg.kg(-1).h(-1)) or vehicle beginning 1 h before administration of leucine (1.35 g L-leucine/kg) or saline (control). Rats were killed 15, 30, 45, 60, or 120 min after leucine administration. Compared with controls, serum insulin concentrations were elevated between 15 and 45 min after leucine administration but returned to basal values by 60 min. Somatostatin maintained insulin concentrations at basal levels throughout the time course. Protein synthesis was increased between 30 and 60 min, and this effect was blocked by somatostatin. Enhanced assembly of the mRNA cap-binding complex (composed of eukaryotic initiation factors eIF4E and eIF4G) and hyperphosphorylation of the eIF4E-binding protein 1 (4E-BP1), the 70-kDa ribosomal protein S6 kinase (S6K1), and the ribosomal protein S6 (rp S6) were observed as early as 15 min and persisted for at least 60 min. Somatostatin attenuated the leucine-induced changes in 4E-BP1 and S6K1 phosphorylation and completely blocked the change in rp S6 phosphorylation but had no effect on eIF4G small middle dot eIF4E assembly. Overall, the results suggest that the leucine-induced enhancement of protein synthesis and the phosphorylation states of 4E-BP1 and S6K1 are facilitated by the transient increase in serum insulin. In contrast, assembly of the mRNA cap-binding complex occurs independently of increases in insulin and, by itself, is insufficient to stimulate rates of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after leucine administration.