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Title:Leucine is a critical factor determining protein quantity and quality of a complete meal to initiate muscle protein synthesis
Author(s):Norton, Layne E.
Director of Research:Layman, Donald K.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Garlick, Peter J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Layman, Donald K.; Nakamura, Manabu T.; Pan, Yuan-Xiang
Department / Program:Nutritional Sciences
Discipline:Nutritional Sciences
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
muscle protein synthesis
branched chain amino acids
Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)
protein quality
Abstract:Emerging research suggests that high protein diets may have a role in preventing obesity, sarcopenia, diabetes, and optimizing muscle mass and bone health. Evidence is mounting that these benefits may be in part due to the amino acid leucine (leu) and its unique ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Current dietary protein recommendations for protein quantity and quality are defined as the minimum daily amount to prevent deficiencies of limiting amino acids and increases in plasma amino acids are regarded as ‘excess’ or inefficient use of amino acids due to increased amino acid oxidation. This view does not account for the meal responses of MPS associated with intracellular signaling in response to increasing plasma leu. The goal of this research was to elucidate the physiological role that leu plays in complete meals and to determine if the meal distribution of protein or leu is important for optimization of muscle mass. My hypothesis was that optimum MPS would equate to maximum signaling response of the kinase known as mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and directly related to post-prandial plasma leu concentration. Ultimately, the leu content of individual meals and the number of meal per day with sufficient leu to increase MPS will influence muscle mass, lean body mass and long term body composition In vivo work with purified solutions established that leu has a regulatory role for initiating MPS by activating mTOR and there is a clear threshold of leu required to increase plasma leu and stimulate MPS. In order to test the role of leu in complete meals we examined the duration and peak activation of MPS and mTOR signaling in response to complete test meals containing 10, 20, and 30% of total energy from wheat and whey protein (6.8 and 10.9% leu) respectively. We determined that whey increased plasma leu, mTOR signaling, and MPS more than wheat at all protein intakes. Stimulation of MPS after meals last for 3 hours with a peak at 90 minutes, however plasma leu and mTOR signaling remained at a plateau for 3 hours before decreasing. Meal leu content and the increases in postprandial plasma leu were closely associated with peak activation of mTOR signaling and MPS but did not determine the duration of protein synthesis which demonstrated a refractory response to the constant elevations in plasma leu. Experiment 2 examined the potential to use leu to predict the quality of individual proteins to stimulate mTOR signaling and MPS. Adult rats were adapted for 2 weeks to a meal-feeding protocol with complete diets containing 16% protein but with different leu contents using wheat, soy, egg, or whey proteins (6.8, 8.0, 8.8, and 10.9% leu). Animals fed egg and whey significantly increased plasma leu and MPS whereas animals fed wheat and soy did not. The leu content of the meals predicted mTOR signaling and peak MPS responses and were closely related to changes in plasma leu. These findings support the hypothesis that there is a meal leu threshold for increasing plasma leu. While experiment 2 provided proof of concept that there is a meal threshold for leu stimulation of MPS, the critical outcomes are changes in muscle mass or body composition. This study tested the hypothesis that long-term meal-feeding of isonitrogenous/isocaloric diets with 16/54/30% of energy from protein/carbohydrates/lipids, respectively, using protein sources (wheat, soy, egg, whey) with different leu contents could produce body composition and muscle weight outcomes in relation to the changes in postprandial MPS and plasma leu observed in the previous experiments. Based on the leu threshold observed in the previous experiment, the diets were designed such that animals fed egg and whey proteins would receive sufficient leu during each of the three meals to achieve three stimulations of MPS per day as opposed to animals fed wheat and soy proteins with lower leu contents that would achieve the leu threshold only at the larger dinner meal. After 11 weeks of meal-feeding, body composition, lean body mass, and gastrocnemius muscle weights were positively related to the leu content of the diet and reflected the ability of the respective diets to increase postprandial plasma leu and MPS. Finally, we tested the hypothesis that long-term distribution of protein/leu could make a difference in body composition by feeding isocaloric/isonitrogenous meals containing whey protein evenly distributed to achieve the leu thresholds at each of 3 meals (ED-Whey) daily or unevenly distributed over 3 meals (UD-Whey) with only the dinner meal exceeding the leu threshold. The ED-Whey treatment with evenly distributed leu produced multiple stimulations of MPS throughout the day and larger gastrocnemius muscle weights compared to the UD-whey that only achieved stimulation of MPS at a single meal. While muscle mass was larger in the ED-Whey treatment, total lean body mass was not different between groups. This may have been due to the large protein (i.e. nitrogen) content of the dinner meal in the UD-Whey group producing a shift in lean body mass deposition to the liver and visceral tissues, which were larger in the UD-Whey group. In summary, the leu content of complete meals is an important regulator of MPS and produces different body composition outcomes with long term feeding of diets differing in leu contents and leu/protein distribution. These results cannot be explained by limiting amino acids and are not accounted for by current protein quantity and quality recommendations.
Issue Date:2010-05-14
Rights Information:Copyright 2010 Layne E. Norton
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-05-14
Date Deposited:May 2010

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