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Amino Acids. 2013 Oct;45(4):901-11. doi: 10.1007/s00726-013-1538-5. Epub 2013 Jun 29.

Leucine treatment enhances oxidative capacity through complete carbohydrate oxidation and increased mitochondrial density in skeletal muscle cells.

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  • 1Department of Health, Exercise and Sports Science, University of New Mexico, 1 University Blvd, Albuquerque, NM, 87131, USA,


Leucine has been largely implicated for increasing muscle protein synthesis in addition to stimulating mitochondrial biosynthesis. Limited evidence is currently available on the effects and potential benefits of leucine treatment on skeletal muscle cell glycolytic and oxidative metabolism. This work identified the effects of leucine treatment on oxidative and glycolytic metabolism as well as metabolic rate of human and murine skeletal muscle cells. Human rhabdomyosarcoma cells (RD) and mouse myoblast cells (C2C12) were treated with leucine at either 100 or 500 μM for 24 or 48 h. Glycolytic metabolism was quantified by measuring extracellular acidification rate (ECAR) and oxidative metabolism was quantified by measuring oxygen consumption rate. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor coactivator 1 alpha (PGC-1α), an important stimulator of mitochondrial biosynthesis, was quantified using flow cytometry and verified by immunofluorescent confocal microscopy. Mitochondrial content was quantified using mitochondrial and cytochrome C staining measured by flow cytometry and confirmed with confocal microscopy. Treatment with leucine significantly increased both basal and peak oxidative metabolism in both cell models. Leucine treated cells also exhibited significantly greater mitochondrial proton leak, which is associated with heightened energy expenditure. Basal ECAR was significantly reduced in both cell models following leucine treatment, evidence of reduced lactate export and more complete carbohydrate oxidation. In addition, both PGC-1α and cytochrome C expression were significantly elevated in addition to mitochondrial content following 48 h of leucine treatment. Our observations demonstrated few dose-dependent responses induced by leucine; however, leucine treatment did induce a significant dose-dependent expression of PGC-1α in both cell models. Interestingly, C2C12 cells treated with leucine exhibited dose-dependently reduced ATP content, while RD ATP content remain unchanged. Leucine presents a potent dietary constituent with low lethality with numerous beneficial effects for increasing oxidative preference and capacity in skeletal muscle. Our observations demonstrate that leucine can enhance oxidative capacity and carbohydrate oxidation efficiency, as well as verify previous observations of increased mitochondrial content.

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