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Journal of Obesity
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 197653, 14 pages
Review Article

Excessive Leucine-mTORC1-Signalling of Cow Milk-Based Infant Formula: The Missing Link to Understand Early Childhood Obesity

Department of Dermatology, Environmental Medicine and Health Theory, University of Osnabrück, Sedanstrasse 115, 49090 Osnabrück, Germany

Received 11 December 2011; Accepted 9 January 2012

Academic Editor: Paul Trayhurn

Copyright © 2012 Bodo C. Melnik. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Increased protein supply by feeding cow-milk-based infant formula in comparison to lower protein content of human milk is a well-recognized major risk factor of childhood obesity. However, there is yet no conclusive biochemical concept explaining the mechanisms of formula-induced childhood obesity. It is the intention of this article to provide the biochemical link between leucine-mediated signalling of mammalian milk proteins and adipogenesis as well as early adipogenic programming. Leucine has been identified as the predominant signal transducer of mammalian milk, which stimulates the nutrient-sensitive kinase mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1). Leucine thus functions as a maternal-neonatal relay for mTORC1-dependent neonatal β-cell proliferation and insulin secretion. The mTORC1 target S6K1 plays a pivotal role in stimulation of mesenchymal stem cells to differentiate into adipocytes and to induce insulin resistance. It is of most critical concern that infant formulas provide higher amounts of leucine in comparison to human milk. Exaggerated leucine-mediated mTORC1-S6K1 signalling induced by infant formulas may thus explain increased adipogenesis and generation of lifelong elevated adipocyte numbers. Attenuation of mTORC1 signalling of infant formula by leucine restriction to physiologic lower levels of human milk offers a great chance for the prevention of childhood obesity and obesity-related metabolic diseases.