The 3H-leucine tracer: its use in kinetic studies of plasma lipoproteins.Metabolism. 1997 Mar; 46(3):333-42.M
3H-leucine administered as a bolus has been widely used as a tracer in kinetic investigations of protein synthesis and secretion. After intravenous injection, plasma specific radioactivity decays over several orders of magnitude during the first half-day, followed by a slow decay lasting a number of weeks that results from recycling of the leucine tracer as proteins are degraded and 3H-leucine reenters the plasma pool. In studies in which kinetic data are analyzed by mathematical compartmental modeling, plasma leucine activity is generally used as a forcing function to drive the input of 3H-leucine into the protein synthesis pathway. 3H-leucine is an excellent tracer during the initial hours of rapidly decreasing plasma activity; thereafter, reincorporation of recycled tracer into new protein synthesis obscures the tracer data from proteins with slower turnover rates. Thus, for proteins such as plasma albumin and apolipoprotein (apo) A-I, this tracer is unsatisfactory for measuring fractional catabolic (FCR) and turnover rates. By contrast, the kinetics of plasma very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)-apoB, a protein with a residence time of approximately 5 hours, are readily measured, since kinetic parameters of this protein can be determined by the time plasma leucine recycling becomes established. However, measurement of VLDL-apoB specific radioactivity extending up to 2 weeks provides further data on the kinetic tail of VLDL-apoB. Were plasma leucine a direct precursor for the leucine in VLDL-apoB, the kinetics of the plasma tracer should determine the kinetics of the protein. However, this is not the case, and the deviations from linearity are interpreted in terms of (1) the dilution of plasma leucine in the liver by unlabeled dietary leucine; (2) the recycling of hepatocellular leucine from proteins within the liver, where recycled cellular leucine does not equilibrate with plasma leucine; and (3) a "hump" in the kinetic data of VLDL-apoB, which we interpret to reflect recycling or retention of a portion of the apoB protein within the hepatocyte, with its subsequent secretion. Because hepatocellular tRNA is the immediate precursor for synthesis of these secretory proteins, its kinetics should be used as the forcing function to drive the modeling of this system. The VLDL-apoB tail contains the information needed to modify the plasma leucine data, to provide an appropriate forcing function when using 3H-leucine as a tracer of apolipoprotein metabolism. This correction is essential when using 3H-leucine as a tracer for measuring low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-apoB kinetics. The 3H-leucine tracer also highlights the importance of recognizing the difference between plasma and system residence times, the latter including the time the tracer resides within exchanging extravascular pools. The inability to determine these fractional exchange coefficients for apoA-I and albumin explains the failure of this tracer in kinetic studies of these proteins. For apoB-containing lipoproteins, plasma residence times are generally determined, and these measurements can be made satisfactorily with 3H-leucine.