At 7 days after cutting the sciatic nerve, the extensor digitorum longus muscle was smaller and contained less protein than its innervated control. Correlating with these changes was the finding of elevated rates of protein degradation (measured in vitro) in the denervated tissue. However, at this time, rates of protein synthesis (measured in vitro) and nucleic acid concentrations were also higher in the denervated tissue, changes more usually associated with an active muscle rather than a disused one. These anabolic trends have, at least in part, been explained by the possible greater exposure of the denervated extensor digitorum longus to passive stretch. When immobilized under a maintained influence of stretch the denervated muscle grew to a greater extent. Although this stretch-induced growth appeared to occur predominantly through a stimulation of protein synthesis, it was opposed by smaller increases in degradative rates. Nucleic acids increased at a similar rate to the increase in muscle mass when a continuous influence of stretch was imposed on the denervated tissue. In contrast, immobilization of the denervated extensor digitorum longus in a shortened unstretched state reversed most of the stretch-induced changes; that is, the muscle became even smaller, with protein synthesis decreasing to a greater extent than breakdown after the removal of passive stretch. The present investigation suggests that stretch will promote protein synthesis and hence growth of the extensor digitorum longus even in the absence of an intact nerve supply. However, some factor(s), in addition to passive stretch, must contribute to the anabolic trends in this denervated muscle.

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