The metabolic fate of leucine's first and second carbon may be different depending on the tissue in which leucine is metabolized, as well as the prevailing hormonal milieu of that tissue. However, previous studies of leucine kinetics in humans have used only leucine labeled (as tracer) at the first carbon position. Because cirrhosis is associated with factors (such as insulin resistance and altered fuel substrate utilization) that may influence how leucine is degraded, the kinetics of leucine's first and second carbon using a simultaneous infusion of [1-14C] leucine and [2-13C] leucine were studied in the postabsorptive state and during an amino acid infusion in 6 stable cirrhotic patients and 6 matched controls. The data were normalized for different body compartments that were quantified from the dilution of H2  and bromide. The body cell mass, but not body weight or fat-free body mass, was decreased in cirrhosis (P < .001). In response to the amino acid infusion, total leucine appearance from proteolysis and leucine's incorporation into protein increased significantly in both groups, but were higher in cirrhotic patients. Endogenous protein breakdown decreased in normals but remained unchanged in cirrhosis. These alterations in leucine metabolism became more prominent when data were expressed based on the body cell mass rather than on body weight. The oxidation of leucine's first carbon (C1) was decreased in cirrhosis, but the oxidation of leucine's second carbon (C2) did not differ between groups during both the postabsorptive period and the amino acid infusion, while nonoxidative leucine degradation [the difference between the oxidation of leucine's (C1) and (C2)] was also decreased in cirrhosis. In addition, there was a positive correlation between nonoxidative leucine degradation (which represents leucine incorporation into fat), and the respiratory quotient obtained from indirect calorimetry (r = .87; P < .001). These data suggest that the extent of leucine carbon oxidation is dependent on whether fat or carbohydrate is the prevailing fuel substrate. In addition, cirrhotic patients have decreased nonoxidative leucine degradation and are unable to suppress endogenous protein breakdown normally in response to amino acid administration. These abnormalities may contribute to the diminished fat stores and body cell mass commonly observed in cirrhosis.
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