Mitochondrial pyruvate carrier inhibition initiates metabolic crosstalk to stimulate branched chain amino acid catabolism

Mol Metab. 2023 Apr:70:101694. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2023.101694. Epub 2023 Feb 18.


Objective: The mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (MPC) has emerged as a therapeutic target for treating insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). We evaluated whether MPC inhibitors (MPCi) might correct impairments in branched chain amino acid (BCAA) catabolism, which are predictive of developing diabetes and NASH.

Methods: Circulating BCAA concentrations were measured in people with NASH and type 2 diabetes, who participated in a recent randomized, placebo-controlled Phase IIB clinical trial to test the efficacy and safety of the MPCi MSDC-0602K (EMMINENCE; NCT02784444). In this 52-week trial, patients were randomly assigned to placebo (n = 94) or 250 mg MSDC-0602K (n = 101). Human hepatoma cell lines and mouse primary hepatocytes were used to test the direct effects of various MPCi on BCAA catabolism in vitro. Lastly, we investigated how hepatocyte-specific deletion of MPC2 affects BCAA metabolism in the liver of obese mice and MSDC-0602K treatment of Zucker diabetic fatty (ZDF) rats.

Results: In patients with NASH, MSDC-0602K treatment, which led to marked improvements in insulin sensitivity and diabetes, had decreased plasma concentrations of BCAAs compared to baseline while placebo had no effect. The rate-limiting enzyme in BCAA catabolism is the mitochondrial branched chain ketoacid dehydrogenase (BCKDH), which is deactivated by phosphorylation. In multiple human hepatoma cell lines, MPCi markedly reduced BCKDH phosphorylation and stimulated branched chain keto acid catabolism; an effect that required the BCKDH phosphatase PPM1K. Mechanistically, the effects of MPCi were linked to activation of the energy sensing AMP-dependent protein kinase (AMPK) and mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) kinase signaling cascades in vitro. BCKDH phosphorylation was reduced in liver of obese, hepatocyte-specific MPC2 knockout (LS-Mpc2-/-) mice compared to wild-type controls concomitant with activation of mTOR signaling in vivo. Finally, while MSDC-0602K treatment improved glucose homeostasis and increased the concentrations of some BCAA metabolites in ZDF rats, it did not lower plasma BCAA concentrations.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate novel cross talk between mitochondrial pyruvate and BCAA metabolism and suggest that MPC inhibition leads to lower plasma BCAA concentrations and BCKDH phosphorylation by activating the mTOR axis. However, the effects of MPCi on glucose homeostasis may be separable from its effects on BCAA concentrations.

Keywords: Branched chain amino acids; Diabetes; Liver; Mitochondria; Pyruvate.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide) / metabolism
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / metabolism
  • Glucose
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Liver Neoplasms*
  • Mice
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / drug therapy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Zucker
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism


  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters
  • 10-methyl spiro(4.5)dec-6-en-6-carboxylic acid
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide)
  • Glucose
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases