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Cancer Metab. 2014 Mar 31;2(1):6. doi: 10.1186/2049-3002-2-6.

Leucine supplementation differentially enhances pancreatic cancer growth in lean and overweight mice.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78723, USA.
Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1808 Park Road 1c, Smithville, TX 78957, USA.
Contributed equally



The risk of pancreatic cancer, the 4th deadliest cancer for both men and women in the United States, is increased by obesity. Calorie restriction (CR) is a well-known dietary regimen that prevents or reverses obesity and suppresses tumorigenesis in a variety of animal models, at least in part via inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), especially leucine, activate mTOR and enhance growth and proliferation of myocytes and epithelial cells, which is why leucine is a popular supplement among athletes. Leucine is also increasingly being used as a treatment for pancreatic cancer cachexia, but the effects of leucine supplementation on pancreatic tumor growth have not been elucidated.


Supplementation with leucine increased pancreatic tumor growth in both lean (104 ± 17 mm3 versus 46 ± 13 mm3; P <0.05) and overweight (367 ± 45 mm3 versus 230 ± 39 mm3; P <0.01) mice, but tumor enhancement was associated with different biological outcomes depending on the diet. In the lean mice, leucine increased phosphorylation of mTOR and downstream effector S6 ribosomal protein, but in the overweight mice, leucine reduced glucose clearance and thus increased the amount of circulating glucose available to the tumor.


These findings show that leucine supplementation enhances tumor growth in both lean and overweight mice through diet-dependent effects in a murine model of pancreatic cancer, suggesting caution against the clinical use of leucine supplementation for the purposes of skeletal muscle enhancement in cachectic patients.

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