The administration of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) via subcutaneously implanted osmotic pumps partially reversed a catabolic state produced by the co-administration of 20 micrograms of dexamethasone/day to 150 g male rats. Marked dose-dependent effects on body weight and nitrogen retention were produced, with the highest IGF-I dose, 695 micrograms/day, giving a 6 g increase in body weight over 7 days, compared with a 19 g loss in the dexamethasone-only group and an 18 g gain in pair-fed controls. Two IGF-I analogues that bind poorly to IGF-binding proteins, the truncated form, des(1-3)IGF-I, and a variant with an N-terminal extension as well as arginine at residue 3, LR3IGF-I, were approx. 2.5-fold more potent than IGF-I. The response with LR3IGF-I was particularly striking because this peptide binds 3-fold less well than IGF-I to the type 1 IGF receptor. The increased potencies of the IGF-I variants may relate to the substantially increased plasma levels of IGF-binding proteins, particularly IGFBP-3, produced by the combined treatment of dexamethasone with IGF-I or the variants. These binding proteins would be expected to decrease the transfer of IGF-I, but not that of the variants, from blood to tissue sites of action. Measurements of muscle protein synthesis at the end of the treatment period and muscle protein breakdown by 3-methylhistidine (3MH) excretion throughout the experiment indicated coordinate anabolic effects of the IGF peptides on both processes. Thus 3MH excretion was decreased at the highest IGF-I dose from 83.5 +/- 4.2 (S.E.M.) mumol/kg per 7 days to 65.1 +/- 2.2, compared with 54.9 +/- 1.2 in the pair-fed controls. Part of this response in 3MH excretion may have reflected a decrease in gut protein breakdown, because IGF-I and especially the IGF analogues increased the gut weight by up to 45%. Notwithstanding the effects on protein synthesis and breakdown, the fractional carcass weights remained low in the IGF-treated groups, although the increase in total carcass weight reflected nitrogen rather than fat gain. The dexamethasone-induced changes in liver, spleen and heart weight were restored towards normal by the IGF treatment. The experiment demonstrates the potential of IGF-I treatment of catabolic states and especially the value of modified forms of growth factors that bind weakly to IGF-binding proteins.

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