Suboptimal nutrient intake represents a limiting factor for growth and long-term survival of low-birth weight infants. The objective of this study was to determine if in neonates who can consume only 70 % of their protein and energy requirements for 8 days, enteral leucine supplementation will upregulate the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway in skeletal muscle, leading to an increase in protein synthesis and muscle anabolism. Nineteen 4-day-old piglets were fed by gastric tube 1 of 3 diets, containing (kg body weight(-1) · day(-1)) 16 g protein and 190 kcal (CON), 10.9 g protein and 132 kcal (R), or 10.8 g protein + 0.2 % leucine and 136 kcal (RL) at 4-h intervals for 8 days. On day 8, plasma AA and insulin levels were measured during 6 post-feeding intervals, and muscle protein synthesis rate and mTOR signaling proteins were determined at 120 min post-feeding. At 120 min, leucine was highest in RL (P < 0.001), whereas insulin, isoleucine and valine were lower in RL and R compared to CON (P < 0.001). Compared to RL and R, the CON diet increased (P < 0.01) body weight, protein synthesis, phosphorylation of S6 kinase (p-S6K1) and 4E-binding protein (p-4EBP1), and activation of eukaryotic initiation factor 4 complex (eIF4E · eIF4G). RL increased (P ≤ 0.01) p-S6K1, p-4EBP1 and eIF4E · eIF4G compared to R. In conclusion, when protein and energy intakes are restricted for 8 days, leucine supplementation increases muscle mTOR activation, but does not improve body weight gain or enhance skeletal muscle protein synthesis in neonatal pigs.
Keywords: Leucine; Muscle; Premature infant; Synthesis.