Branched-chain ketoacid overload inhibits insulin action in the muscle. Biswas D, Dao KT, Mercer A, Cowie AM, Duffley L, El Hiani Y, Kienesberger PC, Pulinilkunnil T. J Biol Chem. 2020 Sep 2:jbc.RA120.013121. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013121.

Branched-chain α-keto acids (BCKAs) are catabolites of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Intracellular BCKAs is cleared by branched-chain ketoacid dehydrogenase (BCKDH), which is sensitive to inhibitory phosphorylation by BCKD kinase (BCKDK). Accumulation of BCKAs is an indicator of defective BCAA catabolism and has been correlated with glucose intolerance and cardiac dysfunction. However, it is unclear whether BCKAs directly alter insulin signaling and function in the skeletal and cardiac muscle cell. Furthermore, the role of excess fatty acids (FA) in perturbing BCAA catabolism and BCKA availability merits investigation. By using immunoblot and UPLC MS/MS to analyze the hearts of fasted mice, we observed decreased BCAA catabolizing enzyme expression and increased circulating BCKAs, but not BCAAs. In mice subjected to diet-induced obesity (DIO), we observed similar increases in circulating BCKAs with concomitant changes in BCAA catabolizing enzyme expression only in the skeletal muscle. Effects of DIO were recapitulated by simulating lipotoxicity in skeletal muscle cells treated with saturated FA, palmitate. Exposure of muscle cells to high concentrations of BCKAs resulted in inhibition of insulin-induced AKT phosphorylation, decreased glucose uptake and mitochondrial oxygen consumption. Altering intracellular clearance of BCKAs by genetic modulation of BCKDK and BCKDHA expression showed similar effects on AKT phosphorylation. BCKAs increased protein translation and mTORC1 activation. Pretreating cells with mTORC1 inhibitor rapamycin restored BCKAs effect on insulin-induced AKT phosphorylation. This study provides evidence for FA mediated regulation of BCAA catabolizing enzymes, BCKA content and highlights the biological role of BCKAs in regulating muscle insulin signaling and function. Read here.