A (14)C-leucine absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) study in adult Sprague-Dawley rat reveals β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate as a metabolite

Amino Acids. 2015 May;47(5):917-24. doi: 10.1007/s00726-015-1920-6. Epub 2015 Jan 25.


Leucine is an essential branched-chain amino acid that acts as a substrate for protein synthesis and as a signaling molecule. Leucine not incorporated into muscle protein is ultimately oxidized through intermediates such as β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB) which itself is reported to enhance muscle mass and function in rats and humans. HMB has been reported in the plasma following oral leucine administration in sheep and pigs but not in Sprague-Dawley rats, the standard preclinical model. Therefore, we conducted radiolabeled absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) studies in rats using a low (3 mg/kg) or high dose (1,000 mg/kg) of (14)C-leucine. Blood, tissue, and urine samples were analyzed for (14)C-leucine and its metabolites by HPLC-MS. Our results show for the first time that (14)C-HMB appears in plasma and urine of rats following an oral dose of (14)C-leucine. (14)C-leucine appears in plasma as (14)C-α-ketoisocaproic acid (KIC) with a slower time course than (14)C-HMB, a putative product of KIC. Further, two novel metabolites of leucine were detected in urine, N-acetyl leucine and glycyl leucine. Mass balance studies demonstrate that excretory routes accounted for no more than 0.9 % of the radiolabel and approximately 61 % of the dose was recovered in the carcass. Approximately 65 % of the dose was recovered in total, suggesting that approximately one-third of the leucine dose is oxidized to CO2. In conclusion, this study demonstrates endogenous production of HMB from leucine in adult rats, a standard preclinical model used to guide design of clinical trials in nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Dipeptides / blood
  • Dipeptides / urine*
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology
  • Keto Acids / blood*
  • Keto Acids / urine
  • Leucine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Leucine / blood
  • Leucine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Leucine / urine
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Valerates / blood*
  • Valerates / urine


  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Dipeptides
  • Keto Acids
  • Valerates
  • beta-hydroxyisovaleric acid
  • alpha-ketoisocaproic acid
  • glycylleucine
  • Leucine
  • acetylleucine