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Effects of supplementation with branched-chain amino acids to low-protein diets on expression of genes related to lipid metabolism in skeletal muscle of growing pigs

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Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), including leucine (Leu), isoleucine (Ile), and valine (Val), play critical roles in energy homeostasis and lipid metabolism in addition to their other functions, such as in protein metabolism. This study investigated the effects of different dietary BCAA ratios on the intramuscular fat (IMF) content and fatty acid composition in different location of skeletal muscles, including the longissimus dorsi (LD), biceps femoris (BF), and psoas major (PM) muscles of growing pigs, and also examined the mRNA expression levels of genes involved in lipid metabolism in these muscle tissues. The experiment was performed on 40 growing pigs (Large White × Landrace) with a similar initial weight (9.85 ± 0.35 kg). The pigs were randomly assigned to one of five diets: diet A was a positive control and contained 20 % crude protein (CP) with a Leu:Ile:Val ratio of 1:0.51:0.63 according to the recommendation of the National Research Council (NRC); for diets B to E, the CP level was reduced to 17 %, and the Leu:Ile:Val ratios were 1:1:1, 1:0.75:0.75, 1:0.51:0.63, and 1:0.25:0.25, respectively. No significant difference was observed in the average feed intake and feed efficiency of the pigs fed the low protein diet (17 % CP) with BCAA treatments relative to the positive control. However, there was a tendency for increased feed efficiency of the 1:0.75:0.75 group compared with the 1:1:1 group (P = 0.09). The BCAA ratio of 1:0.75:0.75 (17 % CP) increased the IMF content of BF muscle (P < 0.01). Moreover, varied dietary BCAA supplementation with a reduced protein level had different effects on the fatty acid composition of the LD, BF, and PM muscles. The BCAA ratio of 1:0.51:0.63–1:0.75:0.75 (17 % CP) significantly lowered the ratio of n-6 to n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in these muscles compared with the positive control group (20 % CP). This effect was associated with an increase in mRNA expression levels of acetyl-CoA carboxylase, lipoprotein lipase, fatty acid transport protein, and fatty acid binding protein 4 in the muscles (P < 0.05). The results indicated that the reduced protein diet (17 % CP) with the BCAA ratio within 1:0.25:0.25–1:0.75:0.75 could increase the IMF content in BF muscle and significantly improve the fatty acid composition in different skeletal muscles accompanied by changes in the expression of genes involved in lipid metabolism, compared with those in the pigs that received adequate dietary protein (20 %), which might result in improved eating quality and nutritional value of the meat.

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Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others



Acetyl-CoA carboxylase


Average daily gain


Average daily feed intake


Branched-chain amino acids


Biceps femoris


Coronary heart disease


Crude protein


Fatty acid binding protein 4


Fatty acid transport protein


High density lipoprotein-cholesterol


Hormone-sensitive lipase




Intramuscular fat


Longissimus dorsi


Low density lipoprotein-cholesterol




Lipoprotein lipase




Muscle carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1


Monounsaturated fatty acid


Nonesterified fatty acids


National Research Council


Psoas major


Polyunsaturated fatty acid


Saturated fatty acid




Total cholesterol




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This study was jointly supported by National Basic Research Program of China (2013CB127305, 2012CB124704), National Nature Science Foundation of China (31110103909, 31330075), Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2015), Nature Science Foundation of Hunan Province (2015JJ2146), and The Chinese Academy of Science STS Project (KFJ-EW-STS-063).

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Correspondence to Fengna Li or Yulong Yin.

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The authors have declared no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution at which the studies were conducted. This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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Y. Duan and L. Zeng contributed equally to this study.

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Duan, Y., Duan, Y., Li, F. et al. Effects of supplementation with branched-chain amino acids to low-protein diets on expression of genes related to lipid metabolism in skeletal muscle of growing pigs. Amino Acids 48, 2131–2144 (2016).

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