Effects of low-protein diet supplementation with alpha-ketoglutarate on growth performance, nitrogen metabolism and mTOR signalling pathway of skeletal muscle in piglets

J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2020 Jan;104(1):300-309. doi: 10.1111/jpn.13230. Epub 2019 Oct 31.


Excessive protein levels in diets result in incomplete digestion of nitrogenous nutrients that are excreted from the body, causing environment pollution. Alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG) has been reported to decrease dietary protein levels, promote intestinal health in piglets and reduce environmental pollution. However, the underlying mechanisms of AKG are largely unknown. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of low-protein diet supplementation of AKG on the growth performance, nitrogen metabolism, relative expression of amino acid transporter genes and mTOR signalling pathway of skeletal muscle in piglets. Forty-eight piglets with an initial weight of 11.53 ± 0.04 kg were randomly divided into four groups. Each group had four replicates, and each replicate had three pigs. A low-protein (LP) diet (crude protein was 14.96%) served as the control without AKG, while 0.5%, 1.0% and 1.5% AKG were added to the LP diet for the other experimental groups. The trial period lasted for 28 days. Compared with the LP group, the LP + 1.0%A and LP + 1.5%A groups increased the growth performance (p < .05);increased the mRNA levels of amino acid transporters in the duodenum, anterior jejunum and posterior jejunum (p < .05); and reduced faecal nitrogen and urine nitrogen emissions (p < .05). They also showed greater mRNA levels and phosphorylated protein levels for S6 kinase beta (S6K) (p < .05), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) (p < .05) and 4E-binding protein 1 (4EBP1) (p < .05) in skeletal muscle. An LP diet supplemented with AKG activated the mTOR signalling and promoted the ability of the small intestine to absorb protein, thereby increasing protein deposition. Taken together, an LP diet supplemented with AKG provides a theoretical basis for the promotion and application of AKG in piglet production.

Keywords: AKG; growth performance; mTOR signalling pathway; nitrogen metabolism; piglets.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics
  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / metabolism
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems / genetics
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Diet, Protein-Restricted / veterinary*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Ketoglutaric Acids / administration & dosage
  • Ketoglutaric Acids / pharmacology*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / genetics
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa / metabolism
  • Swine / growth & development*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Ketoglutaric Acids
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 70-kDa
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • ribosomal protein S6 kinase, 70kD, polypeptide 1
  • Nitrogen