Amino Acids

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 41–51 | Cite as

The role of leucine and its metabolites in protein and energy metabolism

  • Yehui Duan
  • Fengna LiEmail author
  • Yinghui Li
  • Yulong Tang
  • Xiangfeng Kong
  • Zemeng Feng
  • Tracy G. Anthony
  • Malcolm Watford
  • Yongqing Hou
  • Guoyao Wu
  • Yulong YinEmail author
Original Article


Leucine (Leu) is a nutritionally essential branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) in animal nutrition. It is usually one of the most abundant amino acids in high-quality protein foods. Leu increases protein synthesis through activation of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway in skeletal muscle, adipose tissue and placental cells. Leu promotes energy metabolism (glucose uptake, mitochondrial biogenesis, and fatty acid oxidation) to provide energy for protein synthesis, while inhibiting protein degradation. Approximately 80 % of Leu is normally used for protein synthesis, while the remainder is converted to α-ketoisocaproate (α-KIC) and β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB) in skeletal muscle. Therefore, it has been hypothesized that some of the functions of Leu are modulated by its metabolites. Both α-KIC and HMB have recently received considerable attention as nutritional supplements used to increase protein synthesis, inhibit protein degradation, and regulate energy homeostasis in a variety of in vitro and in vivo models. Leu and its metabolites hold great promise to enhance the growth and health of animals (including humans, birds and fish).


Leucine α-Ketoisocaproate β-Hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate Protein metabolism Energy homeostasis Pigs 







4E-binding protein 1


AMP-activated protein kinase


Adenosine triphosphate


Branched-chain amino acid


Branched-chain amino-acid aminotransferase


Branched-chain α-keto acid dehydrogenase


Eukaryotic initiation factor 2α


Eukaryotic initiation factor 4E


Eukaryotic initiation factor-4G


Free fatty acid


Glutamate dehydrogenase






Insulin-like growth factor I


Isovaleryl CoA


KIC dioxygenase


KIC-stimulated insulin secretion


Leucine-stimulated insulin secretion


Muscle atrophy F-box


Mitogen-activated protein kinase


Mammalian target of rapamycin


Mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1


Muscle ring finger 1


Nuclear factor-κB


Phosphoinositide-3-OH kinase


Protein kinase C


Reactive oxygen species


p70 ribosomal protein S6 kinase


Silent information regulator transcript 1



This study was jointly supported by National Basic Research Program of China (2013CB127305, 2012CB124704), National Nature Science Foundation of China (31110103909, 31330075), The Chinese Academy of Science STS Project (KFJ-EW-STS-063), Key Projects in the National Science & Technology Pillar Program (2013BAD21B04), the Hubei Hundred Talent program, and Texas A&M AgriLife Research (H-8200).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have declared no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yehui Duan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fengna Li
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yinghui Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yulong Tang
    • 1
  • Xiangfeng Kong
    • 1
  • Zemeng Feng
    • 1
  • Tracy G. Anthony
    • 3
  • Malcolm Watford
    • 3
  • Yongqing Hou
    • 4
  • Guoyao Wu
    • 4
    • 5
  • Yulong Yin
    • 1
    • 4
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Scientific Observing and Experimental Station of Animal Nutrition and Feed Science in South-Central, Ministry of Agriculture, Hunan Provincial Engineering Research Center of Healthy Livestock, Key Laboratory of Agro-ecological Processes in Subtropical Region, Institute of Subtropical AgricultureChinese Academy of SciencesChangshaChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Department of Nutritional SciencesRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  4. 4.Hubei Collaborative Innovation Center for Animal Nutrition and Feed SafetyWuhan Polytechnic UniversityWuhanChina
  5. 5.Department of Animal ScienceTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  6. 6.School of BiologyHunan Normal UniversityChangshaChina

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