The tissue origin of 3-methylhistidine (N tau-methylhistidine) was investigated in adult female rats. The decay of labelling of urinary 3-methylhistidine was compared with the labelling of protein-bound 3-methylhistidine in skeletal muscle and intestine after the injection of [methyl-14C]methionine. The decay curve for urinary 3-methylhistidine was much steeper than that in muscle or intestine, falling to values lower than those in either tissue after 30 days. The lack of decay of labelling in muscle during the first 30 days is shown to result from the persistence of label in the precursor S-adenosylmethionine. The relative labelling of urinary, skeletal-muscle and intestinal 3-methylhistidine cannot be explained in terms of skeletal muscle accounting for a major proportion of urinary 3-methylhistidine. Measurements were also made of the steady-state synthesis rate of protein-bound 3-methylhistidine in intestinal smooth muscle in vivo in adult female rats. This involved measurement of the overall rate of protein synthesis and measurement of the relative rates of synthesis of 3-methylhistidine and of mixed protein. The synthesis rate of 3-methylhistidine was 29.1%/day, compared with the overall rate of 77.1%/day for mixed, non-mucosal intestinal protein. Measurement of the amount of 3-methylhistidine in skeletal muscle (0.632 +/- 0.024 mumol/g) and in the whole body (0.332 +/- 0.013 mumol/g) indicate that, although the muscle pool is 86% of the total, because of its slow turnover rate of 1.1-1.6%/day, it only accounts for 38-52% of the observed excretion. Measurements of the mass of the intestine (9.95 g/250 g body wt.) and protein-bound 3-methylhistidine content (0.160 mumol/g of tissue) indicate a pool size of 1.59 mumol/250 micrograms rat. Thus 463 nmol of the urinary excretion/day would originate from the intestine, 22% of the total. The tissue source of the remaining urinary excretion is not identified, but other non-muscle sources constituting about 10% of the whole-body pool could account for this with turnover rates of only 6%/day, a much lower value than the turnover rate in the intestine.

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