Leucine as a regulator of whole body and skeletal muscle protein metabolism in humans

Am J Physiol. 1992 Nov;263(5 Pt 1):E928-34. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.1992.263.5.E928.


Leucine has been proposed as an in vivo regulator of protein metabolism, although the evidence for this in humans remains inconclusive. To test this hypothesis, we infused either L-leucine (154 +/- 1 mumol.kg-1 x h-1) or saline intravenously in six healthy men in two separate studies. L-Leucine infusion increased plasma concentrations of leucine and alpha-ketoisocaproate from 112 +/- 6 and 38 +/- 3 mumol/l to 480 +/- 27 (P < 0.001) and 94 +/- 13 mumol/l (P < 0.001), respectively, without any significant change in circulating insulin or C peptide levels. Leucine infusion decreased plasma concentrations of several amino acids and decreased whole body valine flux and valine oxidation (using L-[1-13C]valine as a tracer) and phenylalanine flux (using [2H5]-phenylalanine as a tracer). According to arteriovenous differences across the leg, the net balance of phenylalanine, valine, and lysine shifted toward greater retention during leucine infusion, whereas alanine balance did not change. Valine release and phenylalanine release from the leg (estimated from the dilution of respective tracers) decreased, indicating inhibition of protein degradation by leucine infusion. We conclude that leucine decreases protein degradation in humans and that this decreased protein degradation during leucine infusion contributes to the decrease in plasma essential amino acids. This study suggests a potential role for leucine as a regulator of protein metabolism in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acids / blood
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Hemiterpenes
  • Humans
  • Keto Acids / metabolism
  • Leg
  • Leucine / pharmacology
  • Leucine / physiology*
  • Male
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Phenylalanine / metabolism
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Valine / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Hemiterpenes
  • Keto Acids
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Phenylalanine
  • alpha-ketoisovalerate
  • Leucine
  • Valine