Homeostatic regulation of protein intake: in search of a mechanism

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2012 Apr 15;302(8):R917-28. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00609.2011. Epub 2012 Feb 8.


Free-living organisms must procure adequate nutrition by negotiating an environment in which both the quality and quantity of food vary markedly. Recent decades have seen marked progress in our understanding of neural regulation of feeding behavior. However, this progress has occurred largely in the context of energy intake, despite the fact that food intake is influenced by more than just the energy content of the diet. A large number of behavioral studies indicate that both the quantity and quality of dietary protein can markedly influence food intake. High-protein diets tend to reduce intake, low-protein diets tend to increase intake, and rodent models seem to self-select between diets in order to meet protein requirements and avoid diets that are imbalanced in amino acids. Recent work suggests that the amino acid leucine regulates food intake by altering mTOR and AMPK signaling in the hypothalamus, while activation of GCN2 within the anterior piriform cortex contributes to the detection and avoidance of amino acid-imbalanced diets. This review focuses on the role that these and other signaling systems may play in mediating the homeostatic regulation of protein balance, and in doing so, highlights our lack of knowledge regarding the physiological and neurobiological mechanisms that might underpin such a regulatory phenomenon.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism*
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Dietary Proteins