Leucine, when ingested with glucose, synergistically stimulates insulin secretion and lowers blood glucose

Metabolism. 2008 Dec;57(12):1747-52. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.09.001.


Our laboratory is interested in the metabolic effects of ingested proteins. As part of this research, we currently are investigating the metabolic effects of ingested individual amino acids. The objective of the current study was to determine whether leucine stimulates insulin and/or glucagon secretion and whether, when it is ingested with glucose, it modifies the glucose, insulin, or glucagon response. Thirteen healthy subjects (6 men and 7 women) were studied on 4 different occasions. Subjects were admitted to the special diagnostic and treatment unit after a 12-hour fast. They received test meals at 8:00 am. On the first occasion, they received water only. Thereafter, they received 25 g glucose or 1 mmol/kg lean body mass leucine or 1 mmol/kg lean body mass leucine plus 25 g glucose in random order. Serum leucine, glucose, insulin, glucagon, and alpha-amino nitrogen concentrations were measured at various times during a 2.5-hour period after ingestion of the test meal. The amount of leucine provided was equivalent to that present in a high-protein meal, that is, that approximately present in a 350-g steak. After leucine ingestion, the leucine concentration increased 7-fold; and the alpha-amino nitrogen concentration increased by 16%. Ingested leucine did not affect the serum glucose concentration. When leucine was ingested with glucose, it reduced the 2.5-hour glucose area response by 50%. Leucine, when ingested alone, increased the serum insulin area response modestly. However, it increased the insulin area response to glucose by an additional 66%; that is, it almost doubled the response. Ingested leucine stimulated an increase in glucagon. Ingested glucose decreased it. When ingested together, the net effect was essentially no change in glucagon area. In summary, leucine at a dose equivalent to that present in a high-protein meal, had little effect on serum glucose or insulin concentrations but did increase the glucagon concentration. When leucine was ingested with glucose, it attenuated the serum glucose response and strongly stimulated additional insulin secretion. Leucine also attenuated the decrease in glucagon expected when glucose alone is ingested. The data suggest that a rise in glucose concentration is necessary for leucine to stimulate significant insulin secretion. This in turn reduces the glucose response to ingested glucose.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose / drug effects*
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Drug Synergism
  • Fasting / blood
  • Fasting / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glucose / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Leucine / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Young Adult


  • Blood Glucose
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Leucine
  • Glucose