A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial for pharmacological activation of BCAA catabolism in patients with type 2 diabetes

F. Vanweert, M. Neinast, E.E. Tapia, T. van de Weijer, J. Hoeks, V.B. Schrauwen-Hinderling, M.C. Blair, M.R. Bornstein, M.K.C. Hesselink, P. Schrauwen, Z. Arany, E. Phielix*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Web of Science)


Elevations in plasma branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) levels associate with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (T2D). Pre-clinical models suggest that lowering BCAA levels improve glucose tolerance, but data in humans are lacking. Here, we used sodium phenylbutyrate (NaPB), an accelerator of BCAA catabolism, as tool to lower plasma BCAA levels in patients with T2D, and evaluate its effect on metabolic health. This trial (NetherlandsTrialRegister: NTR7426) had a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind cross-over design and was performed in the Maastricht University Medical Center (MUMC+), the Netherlands, between February 2019 and February 2020. Patients were eligible for the trial if they were 40-75years, BMI of 25-38 kg/m(2), relatively well-controlled T2D (HbA1C < 8.5%) and treated with oral glucose-lowering medication. Eighteen participants were randomly assigned to receive either NaPB 4.8 g/m(2)/day and placebo for 2 weeks via controlled randomization and sixteen participants completed the study. The primary outcome was peripheral insulin sensitivity. Secondary outcomes were ex vivo muscle mitochondrial oxidative capacity, substrate oxidation and ectopic fat accumulation. Fasting blood samples were collected to determine levels of BCAA, their catabolic intermediates, insulin, triglycerides, free fatty acids (FFA) and glucose. NaPB led to a robust 27% improvement in peripheral insulin sensitivity compared to placebo (Delta Rd:13.2 +/- 1.8 vs. 9.6 +/- 1.8 mu mol/kg/min, p = 0.02). This was paralleled by an improvement in pyruvate-driven muscle mitochondrial oxidative capacity and whole-body insulin-stimulated carbohydrate oxidation, and a reduction in plasma BCAA and glucose levels. No effects were observed on levels of insulin, triglycerides and FFA, neither did fat accumulation in muscle and liver change. No adverse events were reported. These data establish the proof-of-concept in humans that modulating the BCAA oxidative pathway may represent a potential treatment strategy for patients with T2D.Evidence from preclinical models suggest that lowering levels of branched chain amino acids (BCAA) improves glucose metabolism. Here the authors report that NaPB, an accelerator of BCAA catabolism, improves peripheral insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes in a randomized placebo-controlled crossover clinical trial.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3508
Number of pages9
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2022



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