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Amino acid metabolism in exercising man

Philip Felig and John Wahren

Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510Department of Clinical Physiology of the Karolinska Institute at the Seraphimer Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden

Published December 1971

Arterial concentration and net exchange across the leg and splanchnic bed of 19 amino acids were determined in healthy, postabsorptive subjects in the resting state and after 10 and 40 min of exercise on a bicycle ergometer at work intensities of 400, 800, and 1200 kg-m/min. Arterio-portal venous differences were measured in five subjects undergoing elective cholecystectomy.

In the resting state significant net release from the leg was noted for 13 amino acids, and significant splanchnic uptake was observed for 10 amino acids. Peripheral release and splanchnic uptake of alanine exceeded that of all other amino acids, accounting for 35-40% of total net amino acid exchange. Alanine and other amino acids were released in small amounts (relative to net splanchnic uptake) by the extrahepatic splanchnic tissues drained by the portal vein.

During exercise arterial ananine rose 20-25% with mild exertion and 60-96% at the heavier work loads. Both at rest and during exercise a direct correlation was observed between arterial alanine and arterial pyruvate levels. Net amino acid release across the exercising leg was consistently observed at all levels of work intensity only for alanine. Estimated leg alanine output increased above resting levels in proportion to the work load. Splanchnic alanine uptake during exercise exceeded that of all other amino acids and increased by 15-20% during mild and moderate exercise, primarily as a consequence of augmented fractional extraction of alanine. For all other amino acids, there was no change in arterial concentration during mild exercise. At heavier work loads, increases of 8-35% were noted for isoleucine, leucine, methionine, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, which were attributable to altered splanchnic exchange rather than augmented peripheral release.

The data suggest that (a) synthesis of alanine in muscle, presumably by transamination of glucose-derived pyruvate, is increased in exercise probably as a consequence of increased availability of pyruvate and amino groups; (b) circulating alanine serves an important carrier function in the transport of amino groups from peripheral muscle to the liver, particularly during exercise; (c) a glucose-alanine cycle exists whereby alanine, synthesized in muscle, is taken up by the liver and its glucose-derived carbon skeleton is reconverted to glucose.

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