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J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6 Suppl):1580S-4S. doi: 10.1093/jn/135.6.1580S.

Observations of branched-chain amino acid administration in humans.

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Department of Medicine, University of Vermont, Burlington, 05405, USA.


Since the in vitro study of Buse and Reid in 1975 showing a stimulatory effect of leucine upon rat muscle protein synthesis and reduction in proteolysis, a similar effect has been sought in humans. In 1978, Sherwin demonstrated in humans an improvement in N balance with infusion of leucine in obese subjects fasting to lose weight. A variety of subsequent studies have been performed in humans where leucine alone or the BCAAs have been administered in varying amounts and durations, and the effect upon protein metabolism has been measured. Measurements of changes in muscle amino acid metabolism were made by arteriovenous difference measurements and by biopsies. An anabolic effect of leucine and the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on reduction of muscle protein breakdown was found in these studies, with no measured effect upon muscle protein synthesis. Later studies using stable isotope tracers to define both whole-body protein turnover and leg or arm protein metabolism have similarly concluded that leucine administration specifically induces a reduction in protein breakdown without increasing protein synthesis. This anabolic effect, produced through a reduction of protein breakdown in vivo in humans by leucine is contrary to in vitro studies of rat muscle where stimulation of protein synthesis, has been demonstrated by leucine. Likewise an increase in protein synthesis has also been demonstrated by insulin in rat muscle that is not seen in humans. Of the various studies administering BCAAs or leucine to humans for varying periods of time and amount, the results have been consistent. In addition, no untoward effects have been reported in any of these studies from infusion of the BCAAs at upward 3 times basal flux or 6 times normal dietary intake during the fed portion of the day.

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