To define the mechanism of insulin's anticatabolic action, the effects of three different dosages of insulin (0.25, 0.5, and 1.0 mU x kg(-1) x min(-1)) versus saline on protein dynamics across splanchnic and skeletal muscle (leg) beds were determined using stable isotopes of phenylalanine, tyrosine, and leucine in 24 healthy subjects. After an overnight fast, protein breakdown in muscle exceeded protein synthesis, causing a net release of amino acids from muscle bed, while in the splanchnic bed protein synthesis exceeded protein breakdown, resulting in a net uptake of these amino acids. Insulin decreased (P < 0.003) muscle protein breakdown in a dose-dependent manner with no effect on muscle protein synthesis, thus decreasing the net amino acid release from the muscle bed. In contrast, insulin decreased protein synthesis (P < 0.03) in the splanchnic region with no effect on protein breakdown, thereby decreasing the net uptake of the amino acids. In addition, insulin also decreased (P < 0.001) leucine nitrogen flux substantially more than leucine carbon flux, indicating increased leucine transamination (an important biochemical process for nitrogen transfer between amino acids and across the organs), in a dose-dependent manner, with the magnitude of effect being greater on skeletal muscle than on the splanchnic bed. In conclusion, muscle is in a catabolic state in human subjects after an overnight fast and provides amino acids for synthesis of essential proteins in the splanchnic bed. Insulin achieves amino acid balance across splanchnic and skeletal muscle beds through its differential effects on protein dynamics in these tissue beds.

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