1. The ‘flooding dose’ technique for measuring the rate of protein synthesis in tissues in vivo involves the injection of a large amount of unlabelled amino acid together with the tracer to minimize differences in isotopic enrichment of the free amino acid in plasma and tissue compartments. This approach has been investigated in human muscle by taking biopsies from postabsorptive male volunteers given [1-13C]leucine.
2. Intravenous injection of 4 g of unlabelled leucine resulted in a rapid rise in free leucine concentration of seven- to eleven-fold in plasma and five-fold in muscle. Values were still elevated by two-fold after 2 h.
3. Five minutes after injection of [1-13C]leucine (0.05 g/kg) the isotopic enrichment of plasma leucine was 82% that of the injected material, falling to 44% at 120 min. The enrichment of free leucine in sequential muscle biopsies was close to that in plasma and almost identical to that for plasma α-ketoisocaproate.
4. The rate of protein synthesis was determined from the increase in leucine enrichment in protein of muscle biopsies taken before and 90 min after injection of [1-13C]leucine (0.05 g/kg; 19 or 39 atom% excess) and the average plasma α-ketoisocaproate enrichment over this period (taken to represent muscle free leucine). The mean rate of muscle protein synthesis in 10 subjects was 1.95 (sem 0.12)%/day. Rates of protein synthesis calculated from plasma leucine as precursor enrichment were only 5% lower than those calculated from plasma α-ketoisocaproate.
5. It is concluded that a ‘flooding dose’ of 13C-labelled amino acid is a useful and convenient technique for determining the rate of protein synthesis in tissues of human volunteers and patients.