Branched-chain amino acids differently modulate catabolic and anabolic states in mammals: a pharmacological point of view

Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Jun;174(11):1366-1377. doi: 10.1111/bph.13624. Epub 2016 Oct 25.


Substantial evidence has been accumulated suggesting that branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplementation or BCAA-rich diets have a positive effect on the regulation of body weight, muscle protein synthesis, glucose homeostasis, the ageing process and extend healthspan. Despite these beneficial effects, epidemiological studies have shown that BCAA plasma concentrations and BCAA metabolism are altered in several metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases. In this review article, we present an overview of the current literature on the different effects of BCAAs in health and disease. We also highlight the results showing the most promising therapeutic effects of dietary BCAA supplementation and discuss how BCAAs can trigger different and even opposite effects, depending on the catabolic and anabolic states of the organisms. Moreover, we consider the effects of BCAAs when metabolism is abnormal, in the presence of a mixture of different anabolic and catabolic signals. These unique pharmacodynamic properties may partially explain some of the markedly different effects found in BCAA supplementation studies. To predict accurately these effects, the overall catabolic/anabolic status of patients should be carefully considered. In wider terms, a correct modulation of metabolic disorders would make nutraceutical interventions with BCAAs more effective.

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Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / administration & dosage
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins / pharmacology
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / diet therapy*
  • Metabolic Diseases / physiopathology


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • Dietary Proteins