Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), including leucine (Leu), isoleucine (Ile), and valine (Val), play critical roles in the regulation of energy homeostasis, nutrition metabolism, gut health, immunity and disease in humans and animals. As the most abundant of essential amino acids (EAAs), BCAAs are not only the substrates for synthesis of nitrogenous compounds, they also serve as signaling molecules regulating metabolism of glucose, lipid, and protein synthesis, intestinal health, and immunity via special signaling network, especially phosphoinositide 3-kinase/protein kinase B/mammalian target of rapamycin (PI3K/AKT/mTOR) signal pathway. Current evidence supports BCAAs and their derivatives as the potential biomarkers of diseases such as insulin resistance (IR), type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), cancer, and cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). These diseases are closely associated with catabolism and balance of BCAAs. Hence, optimizing dietary BCAA levels should have a positive effect on the parameters associated with health and diseases. This review focuses on recent findings of BCAAs in metabolic pathways and regulation, and underlying the relationship of BCAAs to related disease processes.
Keywords: PI3K-AKT-mTOR; amino acid metabolism; biomarkers; branch chain amino acids (BCAAs); insulin resistance; metabolic diseases.