Leucine and/or its alpha-keto acid, alpha-ketoisocaproate (KIC), have been reported to spare protein in humans. To determine whether specific amino acid infusions affect whole-body protein metabolism as estimated by changes in leucine flux and oxidation, five groups of normal subjects were infused with saline, leucine (0.47 and 0.94 mumol . kg-1 . min-1), isoleucine (0.47 mumol . kg-1 . min-1), or threonine (0.47 mumol . kg-1 . min-1). Independent estimates of leucine metabolism were obtained using simultaneous infusions of [3H]-leucine and alpha-[14C]ketoisocaproate. Nearly identical results were obtained using either tracer compared with the saline controls. Compared with the saline controls, leucine infusion 1) had no effect on estimated rates of appearance of endogenous leucine, 2) stimulated leucine oxidation, 3) decreased plasma concentrations of other amino acids, and 4) stimulated non-oxidized leucine disappearance in a dose-dependent fashion. In contrast, isoleucine and threonine infusions had no effect on leucine metabolism. Assuming the validity of the isotope model employed, these data suggest that the purported anabolic effect of leucine infusion on whole-body protein metabolism is mediated via stimulation of protein synthesis rather than decreased proteolysis.