A 14C-leucine absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) study in adult Sprague–Dawley rat reveals β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate as a metabolite
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Leucine is an essential branched-chain amino acid that acts as a substrate for protein synthesis and as a signaling molecule. Leucine not incorporated into muscle protein is ultimately oxidized through intermediates such as β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB) which itself is reported to enhance muscle mass and function in rats and humans. HMB has been reported in the plasma following oral leucine administration in sheep and pigs but not in Sprague–Dawley rats, the standard preclinical model. Therefore, we conducted radiolabeled absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) studies in rats using a low (3 mg/kg) or high dose (1,000 mg/kg) of 14C-leucine. Blood, tissue, and urine samples were analyzed for 14C-leucine and its metabolites by HPLC–MS. Our results show for the first time that 14C-HMB appears in plasma and urine of rats following an oral dose of 14C-leucine. 14C-leucine appears in plasma as 14C-α-ketoisocaproic acid (KIC) with a slower time course than 14C-HMB, a putative product of KIC. Further, two novel metabolites of leucine were detected in urine, N-acetyl leucine and glycyl leucine. Mass balance studies demonstrate that excretory routes accounted for no more than 0.9 % of the radiolabel and approximately 61 % of the dose was recovered in the carcass. Approximately 65 % of the dose was recovered in total, suggesting that approximately one-third of the leucine dose is oxidized to CO2. In conclusion, this study demonstrates endogenous production of HMB from leucine in adult rats, a standard preclinical model used to guide design of clinical trials in nutrition.
KeywordsADME Leucine Metabolism HMB β-Hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate Branched-chain amino acid
HMB is a metabolite of interest because it has been shown to have some of the anabolic and anti-catabolic effects of leucine on muscle cells, particularly in highly catabolic conditions such as experimentally induced cancer cachexia (Aversa et al. 2011; Smith et al. 2005), bed rest (Deutz et al. 2013), immobilization (Hao et al. 2011), and sepsis (Kovarik et al. 2010; Supinski et al. 2010). In the catabolic state, HMB helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis and inhibit breakdown by reducing proteasome activity and expression of the 20S subunit of the proteasome (Smith et al. 2005), by inhibition of apoptosis (Hao et al. 2011), and by activation of satellite cells (Alway et al. 2013; Kornasio et al. 2009).
Leucine conversion to HMB has been documented in vivo in sheep and pigs (Van Koevering and Nissen 1992) and in humans with biotin deficiency (Mock et al. 2011) or treated with the drug valproate (Luis et al. 2012). However, the metabolic profile of leucine has not been detailed in a rat ADME model. We wanted to explore the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of leucine using a standard ADME model, the Sprague–Dawley rat. Our study with 14C-leucine indicates that conversion to HMB occurs in the rat and is quantifiable in both plasma and urine.
Animals and experimental design
The studies were approved by the Abbott Laboratories (now Abbvie, Inc.) Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (protocol #1111A0131). A total of twenty-nine 12-month-old male Sprague–Dawley rats (Hilltop Lab Animals, Inc. Scottsdale, PA) were used in these studies and were acclimated to the laboratory for 4 days before use. Rats were given ad libitum access to Harlan Teklad #2018 Rodent Chow and tap water except as noted below for overnight fasting. To minimize animal use, these studies utilized 2–3 rats per group, typical of drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion studies. Extensive previous experience indicates that this number is adequate to obtain reliable results (Aubert et al. 2012; Gao et al. 2014; Hakk et al. 2009).
Animals were dosed with 3 or 1,000 mg/kg 14C-leucine. For the 3 mg/kg dose, a solution of 14C-leucine and non-radiolabeled leucine in 5 % dextrose in water containing 1.6 % ethanol was used. This dose was used to for both intravenous and oral administration. The final concentration of this solution was 3 mg/mL and utilized a dose volume of 1.0 mL/kg with a target radioactivity of 50 μCi/rat. For the high-dose studies, a suspension of 14C-leucine and non-radiolabeled leucine (1,000 mg/kg total dose) was prepared in a standard oral gavage vehicle, 0.25 % carboxymethylcellulose containing 0.1 % Tween 80. This suspension was used in part due to the limited solubility of leucine at this higher concentration (120 mg/mL) and was different from the vehicle used for the 3 mg/kg dose because only an oral formulation was required. The dose volume for this dose was 8.3 mL/kg and the target radioactivity was 100 μCi/rat. The purity of the formulation under conditions of administration for all dose groups was >97 %.
Mass balance study
For the mass balance studies, nine male 12-month-old surgically modified rats weighing 593 ± 21 g (mean ± SEM) were used. Rats had cannulas inserted into the bile duct and duodenum as well as a catheter inserted into the femoral artery by Hilltop Lab Animals, Inc., Scottsdale, PA. For this study, the rats were housed individually in metabolism cages (up to 2 days). Rats were fasted overnight and food was returned 4 h post dose. On the day of dosing, the biliary and duodenal cannulas were disconnected and a solution of taurocholic acid (27.8 mg/mL) was infused through the duodenal cannula. Groups of three rats each received a single 3 mg/kg intravenous dose of 14C-leucine via the penile vein, a 3 mg/kg oral dose of 14C-leucine, or a 1,000 mg/kg oral dose of 14C-leucine administered by gavage. Bile, urine, and feces were collected. The cages were washed at the end of study (48 h post dose) with a small amount of 70 % ethanol and the cage wash was collected for determination of total radioactivity.
Tissue distribution study
For the tissue distribution study, twenty male 12-month-old Sprague–Dawley rats, weighing 633 ± 11 g (mean ± SEM) were fasted overnight before being given a 3 or 1,000 mg/kg (n = 10 per group) oral dose of 14C-leucine prepared as described above. Subgroups of two rats each were euthanized by 95 % CO2–5 % O2 at 0.5, 1, 2, 4 and 24 h for collection of blood and selected tissues (plasma, kidney, liver, lung, adipose, muscle, skin, small intestine and stomach). Blood samples were withdrawn via cardiac puncture into EDTA tubes. The plasma samples were obtained by centrifugation of the blood samples.
Determination of total radioactivity
Total radioactivity in plasma, bile, urine and cage wash was determined directly by liquid scintillation counting (LSC) using a Model 3100TR Quanta Smart Liquid Scintillation Counter (Packard Instrument Company). Feces and tissues were homogenized in 70 % ethanol. Duplicated aliquots of fecal and liver homogenates were combusted in a Tri-Carb® (Packard) Model 307 Sample Oxidizer), followed by LSC. Duplicate aliquots of all other tissue homogenates were solubilized in 1N sodium hydroxide at 40 °C, followed by LSC. Carcass, including gastrointestinal tract and its contents, was weighed and submerged in KOH (10N) overnight on a shaker at low speed. The homogenate was weighed and aliquots were combusted as described above. Total radioactivity was calculated using estimates of total tissue weight (Caster et al. 1956; Davies and Morris 1993).
Sample preparation for metabolite identification and profiling
Radioactive materials in plasma were extracted by adding 10 mL of acetonitrile to 1 mL of plasma, followed by vortex mixing and centrifugation. An acetonitrile–methanol mixture (10 mL, 1/1, v/v) was used to extract the remaining non-precipitable radioactive material from the protein pellet. The resulting pellet was then dissolved in 5 mL of 1N sodium hydroxide and incubated for overnight at 60 °C. Radioactivity was assessed at each step of the extraction process by LSC.
Radiolabeled components in urine and plasma samples were profiled following separation by HPLC and detection by an on-line radio flow detector (all samples) and in parallel with a mass spectrometer (Thermo LTQ Orbitrap) for representative samples. The HPLC system consisted of a Thermo Accela 1,250 pump and Thermo Accela autosampler connected to an IN/US β-Ram Model 5 flow scintillation detector equipped with a 500 µL cell. For plasma samples, radioactive profiles were obtained using HPLC fraction collection into Deepwell Luma Plate™-96; the radioactivity was counted by Perkin Elmer Microplate Scintillation Luminescence Counter Topcount NXT.
For plasma samples from rats following the 3 mg/kg dose, the elution of metabolites for negative ion mass spectrometry was achieved at room temperature on a Thermo Syncronis HILIC, 5 µm, 150 × 4.6 mm column equilibrated with 10 % solvent A (ammonium acetate 10 mM) and 90 % solvent B (acetonitrile) at a flow rate of 1.0 mL/min. After 3 min, a linear gradient was run to 40 % solvent A over 14 min and maintained for 2 min. For plasma samples from rats following the 1,000 mg/kg dose and urine samples, the elution of metabolites for further separation of leucine and HMB was achieved at room temperature on the same column equilibrated with 5 % solvent A and 95 % solvent B at a flow rate of 1.0 mL/min. After 5 min, a linear gradient was run to 20 % solvent A over 19 min, followed by a linear gradient to 50 % solvent A over 2 min and maintained for 6 min.
Each ACN-soluble 14C-metabolite demonstrated a characteristic time course of appearance in plasma (Fig. 3). While 14C-leucine and 14C-HMB peaked 1 h after oral dosing, 14C-KIC did not appear until 1 h post dosing, and climbed steadily thereafter. The KIC:leucine ratio in plasma ranged from 0 at 30 min to 0.66 at 4 h after the gavage.
Mass balance and tissue distribution
When 14C-leucine (3 mg/kg) was administered intravenously, 61.4 % was recovered in the carcass 48 h post infusion. No more than 0.9 % of the radioactivity was found in the cage, bile, urine, or feces, respectively. Both the pattern and total percent 14C recovery was similar when 14C-leucine was given orally at either 3 or 1,000 mg/kg and was similar to that following the 3 mg/kg intravenous dose.
The rat ADME model is widely used to predict metabolic products of drugs in humans. Demonstrating that the metabolic products of an amino acid are similar in the rat ADME model to those in human help establish the rat as a valid model for more complex studies. Furthermore, accompanying mass balance studies in rat also indicate the tissue sites associated with metabolism and eventual fate of the radiolabeled molecule. This series of ADME studies uses the rat model to demonstrate for the first time that the essential branched-chain amino acid, leucine, appears in plasma and urine of rats as the metabolite 14C-HMB following a dose of 14C-leucine. The studies also show for the first time that 14C-leucine appears in plasma as 14C-keto-isocaproic acid with a slower time course than 14C-HMB, its putative product. Further, two novel products of leucine were detected in urine, suggesting additional pathways of leucine metabolism. Interestingly, 2–24 h post dose the majority of circulating 14C in the plasma was found in the protein-bound form. The primary organs containing 14C at 24 h post dose were muscle, liver, and skin; each contained about 5–10 % of the total 14C dose. This study concurs with the previous literature showing that a substantial proportion of administered leucine is oxidized within a few hours (Costelli et al. 1995; White and Brooks, 1981). We found that when a bolus dose of 14C-leucine is orally administered to rats, about 35 % is lost from the body after 24 h, suggesting that about one-third of the dose is oxidized to CO2.
A surprisingly high proportion of orally administered leucine was retained in plasma even 24 h after administration. This may be partially explained by the observation that over time, 14C-leucine (ACN soluble) appeared to be incorporated into plasma protein (ACN precipitable). This is consistent with previous observations that a flooding dose of radiolabeled phenylalanine is incorporated into plasma protein (Papet et al. 2003). Also consistent with the current study, other investigators have found that U-14C-leucine is rapidly incorporated into the TCA-insoluble fraction of plasma after intraperitoneal administration in rats (Casati et al. 1979). Therefore, it is possible that a large proportion of the 14C-leucine administered may be incorporated into the most abundant plasma protein, serum albumin, allowing the 14C-leucine to remain in the circulation since the albumin turnover rate is 62.8 %/day in adult rats (Papet et al. 2003).
After the 1,000 mg/kg dose, 14C-HMB appeared in plasma slightly in advance of its putative precursor, 14C-KIC. Previous investigators have documented the conversion of 14C-leucine to 14C-HMB in sheep and pigs (Van Koevering and Nissen 1992), findings we confirm here in a standard preclinical model. 14C-KIC appeared in plasma at minute concentrations in the first 2 h after the gavage. By 4 h after the gavage, the ratio of KIC: leucine is about 0.66, similar to that reported by others after an intravenous infusion of 1-14C-leucine (Laurent et al. 1984). Interestingly, in our study, the ratio of KIC:leucine derived from a radiolabeled dose is much higher than the ratio (~17 %) of unlabeled molecules reported in the plasma of both fed and starved rats (Hutson and Harper 1981).
The low dose (3 mg/kg body weight) of 14C-leucine was chosen to allow comparison of metabolism after oral and IV administration. The high dose (1,000 mg/kg body weight) was chosen to maximize the probability of detecting minor metabolites of leucine. At the 3 mg/kg dose, leucine was the major radiolabeled molecule identified in plasma (96.3 %) and no HMB was detected. However, at this dose, the conversion of leucine to HMB did occur because HMB was identified in the “cumulative” urine collected for 24 h after the dose. In contrast, when 14C-leucine was administered at 1,000 mg/kg, over a quarter of the plasma 14C was identified as HMB or other metabolites 1 h post gavage. Further examination of the differential response at these two doses demonstrated slightly different patterns of metabolism. In both plasma and urine, the higher dose allowed detection of a greater number of metabolites than the lower dose.
Independent of dose, when 14C-leucine was administered either intravenously (IV) or orally, only a small fraction of the 14C was recovered from the typical excretion routes of bile, urine (including cage wash) and feces (<5 % total). Because the amount of 14C was very low in the feces it is likely that the vast majority of the dose was absorbed. Our data demonstrate that approximately 60–65 % of the dose was recovered in the carcass 48 h post dose leaving the fate of the remaining approximately 35–40 % undetermined. Previous investigators have found that about 8 % of an IV dose of 1-14C-leucine is oxidized to CO2 by 100 g rats over a 2-h period (Costelli et al. 1995). It is possible that over 48 h, as much as 35 % of orally administered leucine could be lost to complete oxidation to CO2.
The major tissues were quantitated for 14C at various times up to 24 h post 3 or 1,000 mg/kg oral 14C-leucine dose. Regardless of the dose or time following dose, the tissues with the highest 14C concentrations were liver, muscle and skin. Previous investigators have also found that 14C-leucine and its metabolic products accumulate in liver and muscle after oral administration of 14C-leucine (Lemon et al. 1982; Vazquez et al. 1986).
As would likely be expected, there was little 14C in the adipose tissue while the lung and kidney demonstrated high per gram concentrations that represented only a small fraction of the total dose when organ size was taken into account. The heart tissue demonstrated higher uptake of the radiolabel than the skeletal muscle on a per gram basis. However, given their relative contribution to the total body weight, skeletal muscle content of 14C far exceeded radiolabel in heart. Both muscle and skin were among the lowest concentrations of radioactivity on a per gram tissue basis but accumulated a similar fraction of the total radiolabel as liver. Other investigators have found that even 20 days after the oral dose of radiolabeled leucine, 48 % of the dose was retained, with 3 % in the liver and 8 % in skin (Neale and Waterlow 1974).
In summary, this study has demonstrated that a portion of an oral dose of leucine is converted to HMB in the rat, that HMB may be detectable in urine even when it is not detectable in plasma, and that it appears in plasma in advance of its putative precursor, 14C-KIC. A possible explanation for these observations is that both steps of leucine conversion to HMB may occur in some tissues, for instance, kidney. 4-HPPD, the enzyme that converts KIC to HMB, has been found in both liver and kidney as well as in neurons (Neve et al. 2003) and skeletal muscle (Wilkinson et al. 2013). Consequently, local tissue concentrations of HMB may be higher than those measured in plasma. Changes in 4-HPPD activity in physiological states such as aging, cachexia, and diabetes may affect the relative availability of HMB in unsupplemented individuals and should be explored.
This study was supported by Abbott Laboratories, Inc. and Abbvie, Inc. The authors are grateful to Dr. Jeffrey Baxter for critical review of the manuscript.
Conflict of interest
The authors are employees of Abbott Laboratories (DWAB and NKE) or Abbvie (AJL, XZ, RS, TM-B, MM, BS). The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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