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Aging (Albany NY). 2011 May;3(5):464-78.

Branched-chain amino acids, mitochondrial biogenesis, and healthspan: an evolutionary perspective.

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Pharmacology Unit, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Biotechnologies, Brescia University, Italy.


Malnutrition is common among older persons, with important consequences increasing frailty and morbidity and reducing health expectancy. On the contrary, calorie restriction (CR, a low-calorie dietary regimen with adequate nutrition) slows the progression of age-related diseases and extends the lifespan of many species. Identification of strategies mimicking key CR mechanisms - increased mitochondrial respiration and reduced production of oxygen radicals - is a hot topic in gerontology. Dietary supplementation with essential and/or branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) exerts a variety of beneficial effects in experimental animals and humans and has been recently demonstrated to support cardiac and skeletal muscle mitochondrial biogenesis, prevent oxidative damage, and enhance physical endurance in middle-aged mice, resulting in prolonged survival. Here we review recent studies addressing the possible role of BCAAs in energy metabolism and in the longevity of species ranging from unicellular organisms to mammals. We also summarize observations from human studies supporting the exciting hypothesis that dietary BCAA enriched mixture supplementation might be a health-promoting strategy in aged patients at risk.

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