The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential amino acids and therefore must be continuously available for protein synthesis. However, BCAAs are toxic at high concentrations as evidenced by maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), which explains why animals have such an efficient oxidative mechanism for their disposal. Nevertheless, it is clear that leucine is special among the BCAAs. Leucine promotes global protein synthesis by signaling an increase in translation, promotes insulin release, and inhibits autophagic protein degradation. However, leucine's effects are self-limiting because leucine promotes its own disposal by an oxidative pathway, thereby terminating its positive effects on body protein accretion. A strong case can therefore be made that the proper leucine concentration in the various compartments of the body is critically important for maintaining body protein levels beyond simply the need of this essential amino acid for protein synthesis. The goal of the work of this laboratory is to establish the importance of regulation of the branched chain alpha-ketoacid dehydrogenase complex (BCKDC) to growth and maintenance of body protein. We hypothesize that proper regulation of the activity state of BCKDC by way of its kinase (BDK) and its phosphatase (BDP) is critically important for body growth, tissue repair, and maintenance of body protein. We believe that growth and protection of body protein during illness and stress will be improved by therapeutic control of BCKDC activity. We also believe that it is possible that the negative effects of some drugs (PPAR alpha ligands) and dietary supplements (medium chain fatty acids) on growth and body protein maintenance can be countered by therapeutic control of BCDKC activity.
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