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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 May;86(5):2136-43.

Branched chain amino acids activate messenger ribonucleic acid translation regulatory proteins in human skeletal muscle, and glucocorticoids blunt this action.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908, USA.


Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) are particularly effective anabolic agents. Recent in vitro studies suggest that amino acids, particularly leucine, activate a signaling pathway that enhances messenger ribonucleic acid translation and protein synthesis. The physiological relevance of these findings to normal human physiology is uncertain. We examined the effects of BCAA on the phosphorylation of eukaryotic initiation factor 4E-binding protein 1 (eIF4E-BP1) and ribosomal protein S6 kinase (p70(S6K)) in skeletal muscle of seven healthy volunteers. We simultaneously examined whether BCAA affect urinary nitrogen excretion and forearm skeletal muscle protein turnover and whether the catabolic action of glucocorticoids could be mediated in part by inhibition of the action of BCAA on the protein synthetic apparatus. BCAA infusion decreased urinary nitrogen excretion (P < 0.02), whole body phenylalanine flux (P < 0.02), plasma phenylalanine concentration (P < 0.001), and improved forearm phenylalanine balance (P = 0.03). BCAA also increased the phosphorylation of both eIF4E-BP1 (P < 0.02) and p70(S6K) (P < 0.03), consistent with an action to activate the protein synthetic apparatus. Dexamethasone increased plasma phenylalanine concentration (P < 0.001), prevented the BCAA-induced anabolic shift in forearm protein balance, and inhibited their action on the phosphorylation of p70(S6K). We conclude that in human skeletal muscle BCAA act directly as nutrient signals to activate messenger ribonucleic acid translation and potentiate protein synthesis. Glucocorticoids interfere with this action, and that may be part of the mechanism by which they promote net protein catabolism in muscle.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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