Myofibrillar protein degradation was measured in 4-week-old normal (line 412) and genetically muscular-dystrophic (line 413) New Hampshire chickens by monitoring the rates of 3-methylhistidine excretion in vivo and in vitro. A method of perfusing breast and wing muscles was developed and the rate of 3-methylhistidine release in vitro was measured between 30 and 90min of perfusion. During this perfusion period, 3-methylhistidine release from the muscle preparation was linear, indicating that changes in 3-methylhistidine concentration of the perfusate were the result of myofibrillar protein degradation. Furthermore, the viability of the perfused muscle was maintained during this interval. After 60min of perfusion, ATP, ADP and creatine phosphate concentrations in pectoral muscle were similar to muscle freeze-clamped in vivo. Rates of glucose uptake and lactate production were constant during the perfusion. In dystrophic-muscle preparations, the rate of 3-methylhistidine release in vitro (nmol/h per g of dried muscle) was elevated 2-fold when compared with that in normal muscle. From these data the fractional degradation rates of myofibrillar protein in normal and dystrophic pectoral muscle were calculated to be 12 and 24% respectively. Daily 3-methylhistidine excretion (nmol/day per g body wt.) in vivo was elevated 1.35-fold in dystrophic chickens. Additional studies revealed that the anti-dystrophic drugs diphenylhydantoin and methylsergide, which improve righting ability of dystrophic chickens, did not alter 3-methylhistidine release in vitro. This result implies that changes in myofibrillar protein turnover are not the primary lesion in avian muscular dystrophy. From tissue amino acid analysis, the myofibrillar 3-methylhistidine content per g dry weight of muscle was similar in normal and dystrophic pectoral muscle. More than 96% of the 3-methylhistidine present in pectoral muscle was associated with the myofibrillar fraction. Dystrophic myofibrillar protein contained significantly less 3-methylhistidine (nmol/g of myofibrillar protein) than protein from normal muscle. This observation supports the hypothesis that there may be a block in the biochemical maturation and development of dystrophic muscle after hatching. Free 3-methylhistidine (nmol/g wet wt.) was elevated in dystrophic muscle, whereas blood 3-methylhistidine concentrations were similar in both lines. In summary, the increased myofibrillar protein catabolism demonstrated in dystrophic pectoral muscle correlates with the increased lysosomal cathepsin activity in this tissue as reported by others.

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