Pathways regulating equine skeletal muscle protein synthesis respond in a dose-dependent manner to graded levels of protein intake

Caroline M.M. Loos, Kyle R. McLeod, Sophie C. Stratton, David A. van Doorn, Isabelle D. Kalmar, Eric S. Vanzant, Kristine L. Urschel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Activation of the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)-controlled anabolic signaling pathways in skeletal muscle of rodents and humans is responsive to the level of dietary protein supply, with maximal activation and rates of protein synthesis achieved with 0.2 to 0.4 g protein/kg body weight (BW). In horses, few data are available on the required level of dietary protein to maximize protein synthesis for maintenance and growth of skeletal muscle. To evaluate the effect of dietary protein level on muscle mTOR pathway activation, five mares received different amounts of a protein supplement that provided 0, 0.06, 0.125, 0.25, or 0.5 g of crude protein (CP)/kg BW per meal in a 5 × 5 Latin square design. On each sample day, horses were fasted overnight and were fed only their protein meal the following morning. A preprandial (0 min) and postprandial (90 min) blood sample was collected and a gluteus medius muscle sample was obtained 90 min after feeding the protein meal. Blood samples were analyzed for glucose, insulin, and amino acid concentrations. Activation of mTOR pathway components (mTOR and ribosomal protein S6 [rpS6]) in the muscle samples was measured by Western immunoblot analysis. Postprandial plasma glucose (P = 0.007) and insulin (P = 0.09) showed a quadratic increase, while total essential amino acid (P < 0.0001) concentrations increased linearly with the graded intake of the protein supplement. Activation of mTOR (P = 0.02) and its downstream target, rpS6 (P = 0.0008), increased quadratically and linearly in relation to the level of protein intake, respectively. Comparisons of individual doses showed no differences (P > 0.05) between the 0.25 and 0.5 g of protein intake for either mTOR or rpS6 activation, indicating that protein synthesis may have reached near maximal capacity around 0.25 g CP/kg BW. This is the first study to show that the activation of muscle protein synthetic pathways in horses is dose-dependent on the level of protein intake. Consumption of a moderate dose of high-quality protein resulted in near maximal muscle mTOR pathway activation in mature, sedentary horses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberskaa268
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Dietary protein
  • Equine
  • Mechanistic target of rapamycin
  • Muscle protein synthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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