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The effects of elective abdominal surgery on protein turnover: A meta-analysis of stable isotope techniques to investigate postoperative catabolism

Jaconelli, Matthew; Greenhaff, Paul L.; Atherton, Philip J.; Lobo, Dileep N.; Brook, Matthew S.


Matthew Jaconelli

Professor of Clinical, metabolic & Molecular Physiology

Professor of Gastrointestinal Surgery


Background & aims

Elective surgery induces skeletal muscle wasting driven by an imbalance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown. From examination of diverse stable isotope tracer techniques, the dynamic processes driving this imbalance are unclear. This meta-analysis aimed to elucidate the mechanistic driver(s) of postoperative protein catabolism through stable isotope assessment of protein turnover before and after abdominal surgery.


Meta-analysis was performed of randomized controlled trials and cohort studies in patients undergoing elective abdominal surgery that contained measurements of whole-body or skeletal muscle protein turnover using stable isotope tracer methodologies pre- and postoperatively. Postoperative changes in protein synthesis and breakdown were assessed through subgroup analysis of tracer methodology and perioperative care.


Surgery elicited no overall change in protein synthesis [standardized mean difference (SMD) ?0.47, 95% confidence interval (CI): ?1.32, 0.39, p = 0.25]. However, subgroup analysis revealed significant suppressions via direct-incorporation methodology [SMD -1.53, 95%CI: ?2.89, ?0.17, p = 0.03] within skeletal muscle. Changes of this nature were not present among arterio-venous [SMD 0.61, 95%CI: ?1.48, 2.70, p = 0.58] or end-product [SMD -0.09, 95%CI: ?0.81, 0.64, p = 0.82] whole-body measures. Surgery resulted in no overall change in protein breakdown [SMD 0.63, 95%CI: ?0.06, 1.32, p = 0.07]. Yet, separation by tracer methodology illustrated significant increases in urinary end-products (urea/ammonia) [SMD 0.70, 95%CI: 0.38, 1.02, p < 0.001] that were not present among arterio-venous measures [SMD 0.67, 95%CI: ?1.05, 2.38, p = 0.45].


Elective abdominal surgery elicits suppressions in skeletal muscle protein synthesis that are not reflected on a whole-body level. Lack of uniform changes across whole-body tracer techniques are likely due to contribution from tissues other than skeletal muscle.


Jaconelli, M., Greenhaff, P. L., Atherton, P. J., Lobo, D. N., & Brook, M. S. (2022). The effects of elective abdominal surgery on protein turnover: A meta-analysis of stable isotope techniques to investigate postoperative catabolism. Clinical Nutrition, 41(3), 709-722.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 25, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 1, 2022
Publication Date 2022-03
Deposit Date Feb 1, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 2, 2023
Journal Clinical Nutrition
Electronic ISSN 1532-1983
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 3
Pages 709-722
Keywords Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine; Nutrition and Dietetics
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