Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis

J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1 Suppl):227S-31S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.1.227S.


BCAAs stimulate protein synthesis in in vitro preparations of skeletal muscle. Likewise, the stimulation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle produced by intake of a mixed meal is due largely to BCAAs. Of the three BCAAs, leucine is the one primarily responsible for the stimulation of protein synthesis under these circumstances. The stimulatory effect of leucine on protein synthesis is mediated through upregulation of the initiation of mRNA translation. A number of mechanisms, including phosphorylation of ribosomal protein S6 Kinase, eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF)4E binding protein-1, and eIF4G, contribute to the effect of leucine on translation initiation. These mechanisms not only promote global translation of mRNA but also contribute to processes that mediate discrimination in the selection of mRNA for translation. A key component in a signaling pathway controlling these phosphorylation-induced mechanisms is the protein kinase, termed the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). The activity of mTOR toward downstream targets is controlled in part through its interaction with the regulatory-associated protein of mTOR (known as raptor) and the G protein beta-subunit-like protein. Signaling through mTOR is also controlled by upstream members of the pathway such as the Ras homolog enriched in brain (Rheb), a GTPase that activates mTOR, and tuberin (also known as TSC2), a GTPase-activating protein, which, with its binding partner hamartin (also known as TSC1), acts to repress mTOR. Candidates for mediating the action of leucine to stimulate signaling through the mTOR pathway include TSC2, Rheb, and raptor. The current state of our understanding of how leucine acts on these signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms to stimulate protein synthesis in skeletal muscle is summarized in this article.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Guanosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / physiology
  • Leucine / pharmacology*
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects*
  • Protein Kinases / physiology
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Ras Homolog Enriched in Brain Protein
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases


  • Insulin
  • Neuropeptides
  • RHEB protein, human
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Ras Homolog Enriched in Brain Protein
  • Guanosine Triphosphate
  • Protein Kinases
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins
  • Leucine