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Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Mar;67(3):359-66.

Robert H Herman Memorial Award in Clinical Nutrition Lecture, 1997. Mechanisms causing loss of lean body mass in kidney disease.

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  • 1Renal Division, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Loss of lean body mass is common in patients with acute or chronic renal failure but the mechanisms causing this loss are only beginning to be understood. One mechanism involves an inability of uremic patients to activate the critical metabolic responses that maintain protein balance when dietary protein is limited. Metabolic responses to dietary protein restriction include a sharp reduction in the degradation of essential amino acids and protein; changes in protein synthesis are less reliable. If uremia prevents suppression of essential amino acid or protein degradation when dietary protein is reduced by anorexia, negative nitrogen balance and loss of lean body mass will ensue. One complication of uremia, metabolic acidosis, stimulates the degradation of branched-chain amino acids and proteins and therefore blocks the ability of the patient to respond to a low-protein diet. The mechanisms require glucocorticoids and involve increased activity of branched-chain keto acid dehydrogenase and the ubiquitin-proteasome proteolytic pathway; there also is increased transcription of genes encoding components of enzymes involved in the pathways. Besides acidosis, a low insulin concentration and cytokines activate the ubiquitin-proteasome proteolytic pathway. Understanding how proteolysis is activated, including how these genes are stimulated, is important because the same pathways are activated in diabetes, cancer, sepsis, burns, starvation, and muscle denervation. Activation of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway leads to reduced lean body mass.

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