Leucine is recognized as a nutrient signal; however, the long-term in vivo consequences of leucine signaling and the role of branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) metabolism in this signaling remain unclear. To investigate these questions, we disrupted the BCATm gene, which encodes the enzyme catalyzing the first step in peripheral BCAA metabolism. BCATm(-/-) mice exhibited elevated plasma BCAAs and decreased adiposity and body weight, despite eating more food, along with increased energy expenditure, remarkable improvements in glucose and insulin tolerance, and protection from diet-induced obesity. The increased energy expenditure did not seem to be due to altered locomotor activity, uncoupling proteins, sympathetic activity, or thyroid hormones but was strongly associated with food consumption and an active futile cycle of increased protein degradation and synthesis. These observations suggest that elevated BCAAs and/or loss of BCAA catabolism in peripheral tissues play an important role in regulating insulin sensitivity and energy expenditure.
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