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J Clin Invest. 1978 Jun;61(6):1471-81.

Effect of starvation on the turnover and metabolic response to leucine.


l-Leucine was administered as a primed continuous 3-4-h infusion in nonobese and obese subjects in the postabsorptive state and for 12 h in obese subjects after a 3-day and 4-wk fast. In nonobese and obese subjects studied in the post-absorptive state, the leucine infusion resulted in a 150-200% rise in plasma leucine above preinfusion levels, a small decrease in plasma glucose, and unchanged levels of plasma insulin and glucagon and blood ketones. Plasma isoleucine (60-70%) and valine (35-40%) declined to a greater extent than other amino acids (P < 0.001). After 3 days and 4 wk of fasting, equimolar infusions of leucine resulted in two- to threefold greater increments in plasma leucine as compared to post-absorptive subjects, a 30-40% decline in other plasma amino acids, and a 25-30% decrease in negative nitrogen balance. Urinary excretion of 3-methylhistidine was however, unchanged. Plasma glucose which declined in 3-day fasted subjects after leucine administration, surprisingly rose by 20 mg/100 ml after 4 wk of fasting. The rise in blood glucose occurred in the absence of changes in plasma glucagon and insulin and in the face of a 15% decline in endogenous glucose production (as measured by infusion of [3-(3)H]glucose). On the other hand, fractional glucose utilization fell by 30% (P < 0.001), thereby accounting for hyperglycemia. The estimated metabolic clearance rate of leucine fell by 48% after 3 days of fasting whereas the plasma delivery rate of leucine was unchanged, thereby accounting for a 40% rise in plasma leucine during early starvation. After a 4-wk fast, the estimated metabolic clearance rate of leucine declined further to 59% below base line. Plasma leucine nevertheless fell to postabsorptive levels as the plasma delivery rate of leucine decreased 65% below postabsorptive values.


(a) Infusion of exogenous leucine in prolonged fasting results in a decline in plasma levels of other amino acids, improvement in nitrogen balance and unchanged excretion of 3-methylhistidine, thus suggesting stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, (b) leucine infusion also reduces glucose production and to an even greater extent, glucose consumption, thereby raising blood glucose concentration; and (c) the rise in plasma leucine in early starvation results primarily from a decrease in leucine clearance which drops progressively during starvation.

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