Background: The rapid gain in lean mass in neonates requires greater rates of protein synthesis than degradation. We previously delineated the molecular mechanisms by which insulin and amino acids, especially leucine, modulate skeletal muscle protein synthesis and how this changes with development. In the current study, we identified mechanisms involved in protein degradation regulation. In experiment 1, 6- and 26-d-old pigs were studied during 1) euinsulinemic-euglycemic-euaminoacidemic, 2) euinsulinemic-euglycemic-hyperaminoacidemic, and 3) hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic-euaminoacidemic clamps for 2 h. In experiment 2, 5-d-old pigs were studied during 1) euinsulinemic-euglycemic-euaminoacidemic-euleucinemic, 2) euinsulinemic-euglycemic-hypoaminoacidemic-hyperleucinemic, and 3) euinsulinemic-euglycemic-euaminoacidemic-hyperleucinemic clamps for 24 h. We determined in muscle indices of ubiquitin-proteasome, i.e., atrogin-1 (MAFbx) and muscle RING-finger protein-1 (MuRF1) and autophagy-lysosome systems, i.e., unc51-like kinase 1 (UKL1), microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 (LC3), and lysosomal-associated membrane protein 2 (Lamp-2). For comparison, we measured ribosomal protein S6 (rpS6) and eukaryotic initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) activation, components of translation initiation.
Results: Abundance of atrogin-1, but not MuRF1, was greater in 26- than 6-d-old pigs and was not affected by insulin, amino acids, or leucine. Abundance of ULK1 and LC3 was higher in younger pigs and not affected by treatment. The LC3-II/LC3-I ratio was reduced and ULK1 phosphorylation increased by insulin, amino acids, and leucine. These responses were more profound in younger pigs. Abundance of Lamp-2 was not affected by treatment or development. Abundance of eIF4E, but not rpS6, was higher in 6- than 26-d-old-pigs but unaffected by treatment. Phosphorylation of eIF4E was not affected by treatment, however, insulin, amino acids, and leucine stimulated rpS6 phosphorylation, and the responses decreased with development.
Conclusions: The rapid growth of neonatal muscle is in part due to the positive balance between the activation of protein synthesis and degradation signaling. Insulin, amino acids, and, particularly, leucine, act as signals to modulate muscle protein synthesis and degradation in neonates.