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EBioMedicine. 2016 Nov;13:157-167. doi: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.10.013. Epub 2016 Oct 11.

Branched Chain Amino Acids Cause Liver Injury in Obese/Diabetic Mice by Promoting Adipocyte Lipolysis and Inhibiting Hepatic Autophagy.

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Department of Cardiology, Xijing Hospital, Fourth Military Medical University, China.
Department of Geratology, Xijing Hospital, Fourth Military Medical University, China.
Department of Emergency Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University, China.
Department of Cardiology, Xijing Hospital, Fourth Military Medical University, China. Electronic address:


The Western meat-rich diet is both high in protein and fat. Although the hazardous effect of a high fat diet (HFD) upon liver structure and function is well recognized, whether the co-presence of high protein intake contributes to, or protects against, HF-induced hepatic injury remains unclear. Increased intake of branched chain amino acids (BCAA, essential amino acids compromising 20% of total protein intake) reduces body weight. However, elevated circulating BCAA is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and injury. The mechanisms responsible for this quandary remain unknown; the role of BCAA in HF-induced liver injury is unclear. Utilizing HFD or HFD+BCAA models, we demonstrated BCAA supplementation attenuated HFD-induced weight gain, decreased fat mass, activated mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), inhibited hepatic lipogenic enzymes, and reduced hepatic triglyceride content. However, BCAA caused significant hepatic damage in HFD mice, evidenced by exacerbated hepatic oxidative stress, increased hepatic apoptosis, and elevated circulation hepatic enzymes. Compared to solely HFD-fed animals, plasma levels of free fatty acids (FFA) in the HFD+BCAA group are significantly further increased, due largely to AMPKα2-mediated adipocyte lipolysis. Lipolysis inhibition normalized plasma FFA levels, and improved insulin sensitivity. Surprisingly, blocking lipolysis failed to abolish BCAA-induced liver injury. Mechanistically, hepatic mTOR activation by BCAA inhibited lipid-induced hepatic autophagy, increased hepatic apoptosis, blocked hepatic FFA/triglyceride conversion, and increased hepatocyte susceptibility to FFA-mediated lipotoxicity. These data demonstrated that BCAA reduces HFD-induced body weight, at the expense of abnormal lipolysis and hyperlipidemia, causing hepatic lipotoxicity. Furthermore, BCAA directly exacerbate hepatic lipotoxicity by reducing lipogenesis and inhibiting autophagy in the hepatocyte.


AMP-activated protein kinase; Branched chain amino acids; Lipolysis; Lipotoxicity; Mammalian target of rapamycin; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

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