Leucine and alpha-ketoisocaproic acid, but not norleucine, stimulate skeletal muscle protein synthesis in neonatal pigs

J Nutr. 2010 Aug;140(8):1418-24. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.123042. Epub 2010 Jun 9.


The branched-chain amino acid, leucine, acts as a nutrient signal to stimulate protein synthesis in skeletal muscle of young pigs. However, the chemical structure responsible for this effect has not been identified. We have shown that the other branched-chain amino acids, isoleucine and valine, are not able to stimulate protein synthesis when raised in plasma to levels within the postprandial range. In this study, we evaluated the effect of leucine, alpha-ketoisocaproic acid (KIC), and norleucine infusion (0 or 400 micromol kg(-1) h(-1) for 60 min) on protein synthesis and activation of translation initiation factors in piglets. Infusion of leucine, KIC, and norleucine raised plasma levels of each compound compared with controls. KIC also increased (P < 0.01) and norleucine reduced (P < 0.02) plasma levels of leucine compared with controls. Administration of leucine and KIC resulted in greater (P < 0.006) phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4E binding protein-1 (4E-BP1) and eIF4G, lower (P < 0.04) abundance of the inactive 4E-BP1.eIF4E complex, and greater (P < 0.05) active eIF4G.eIF4E complex formation in skeletal muscle compared with controls. Protein synthesis in skeletal muscle was greater (P < 0.02) in leucine- and KIC-infused pigs than in those in the control group. Norleucine infusion did not affect muscle protein synthesis or translation initiation factor activation. In liver, neither protein synthesis nor activation of translation initiation factors was affected by treatment. These results suggest that the ability of leucine to act as a nutrient signal to stimulate skeletal muscle protein synthesis is specific for leucine and/or its metabolite, KIC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide) / metabolism
  • Amino Acids / analysis
  • Amino Acids / blood
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / metabolism*
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factors / analysis
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factors / metabolism
  • Insulin / blood
  • Keto Acids / pharmacology*
  • Leucine / pharmacology*
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Norleucine / pharmacology
  • Swine / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factors
  • Insulin
  • Keto Acids
  • Muscle Proteins
  • alpha-ketoisocaproic acid
  • Norleucine
  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide)
  • Leucine