To assess the effect of hemodialysis on protein metabolism, leucine flux was measured in seven patients before, during, and after high efficiency hemodialysis using cuprophane dialyzers and bicarbonate dialysate during a primed-constant infusion of L-[1-13C]leucine. The kinetics [mumol/kg per h, mean +/- SD] are as follows: leucine appearance into the plasma leucine pool was 86 +/- 28, 80 +/- 28, and 85 +/- 25, respectively, before, during, and after dialysis. Leucine appearance into the whole body leucine pool, derived from plasma [1-13C]alpha-ketoisocaproate enrichment, was 118 +/- 31, 118 +/- 31, and 114 +/- 28 before, during, and after dialysis, respectively. In the absence of leucine intake, appearance rate reflects protein degradation, which was clearly unaffected by dialysis. Leucine oxidation rate was 17.3 +/- 7.8 before, decreased to 13.8 +/- 7.8 during, and increased to 18.9 +/- 10.3 after dialysis (P = 0.027). Leucine protein incorporation was 101 +/- 26 before, was reduced to 89 +/- 23 during, and returned to 95 +/- 23 after dialysis (P = 0.13). Leucine net balance, the difference between leucine protein incorporation and leucine release from endogenous degradation, was -17.3 +/- 7.8 before, decreased to -28.5 +/- 11.0 during, and returned to -18.9 +/- 10.3 after dialysis (P < 0.0001). This markedly more negative leucine balance during dialysis was accountable by dialysate leucine loss, which was 14.4 +/- 6.2 mumol/kg per h. These data suggest that hemodialysis using a cuprophane membrane did not acutely induce protein degradation. It was, nevertheless, a net catabolic event because protein synthesis was reduced and amino acid was lost into the dialysate.