The protein anabolic effect of branched chain amino acids was studied in isolated quarter diaphragms of rats. Protein synthesis was estimated by measuring tyrosine incorporation into muscle proteins in vitro. Tyrosine release during incubation with cycloheximide served as an index of protein degradation. In muscles from normal rats the addition of 0.5 mM leucine stimulated protein synthesis 36--38% (P less than 0.01), while equimolar isoleucine or valine, singly or in combination were ineffective. The three branched chain amino acids together stimulated no more than leucine alone. The product of leucine transamination, alpha-keto-isocaproate, did not stmino norborane-2-carboxylic acid (a leucine analogue) were ineffective. Leucine and isoleucine stimulated protein synthesis in muscles from diabetic rats.Leucine, isoleucine, valine and the norbornane amino acid but not alpha-ketoisocaproate or beta-hydroxybutyrate decreased the concentration of free tyrosine in tissues during incubation with cycloheximide; tyrosine release into the medium did not decrease significantly. Leucine caused a small decrease in total tyrosine release, (measured as the sum of free tyrosine in tissues and media), suggesting inhibition of protein degradation. The data suggest that leucine may be rate limiting for protein synthesis in muscles. The branched chain amino acids may exert a restraining effect on muscle protein catabolism during prolonged fasting and diabetes.