Growing rats and adult weight-stable mice bearing a transplantable methylcholanthrene-induced sarcoma were compared with animals with various states of malnutrition. Heart protein synthesis was measured in vivo. Myocardial RNA, myofibrillar protein composition and the Ca2+-activated ATPase activity in heavy chains of native myosin were measured. ‘Fingerprints’ were made from myosin by trypsin treatment to evaluate possible structural changes in the protein. Cardiac protein-synthesis rate was decreased by 20% in growing tumour-bearing rats, by 35% in protein-malnourished (rats) and by 47% in starved rats, compared with freely fed controls (P less than 0.05). Adult tumour-bearing mice showed no significant decrease in myocardial protein synthesis. Pair-weighed control mice had significantly depressed heart protein synthesis. Protein translational efficiency was maintained in both tumour-bearing rats and mice, but was decreased in several groups of malnourished control animals. The Ca2+-activated myosin ATPase activity was decreased in all groups of malnourished animals, including tumour-bearing mice and rats, without any evidence of a change in cardiac isomyosin composition. We conclude that loss of cardiac muscle mass in tumour disease is communicated by both depressed synthesis and increased degradation largely owing to anorexia and host malnutrition. Increased adrenergic sensitivity in hearts from tumour-bearing and malnourished animals is not communicated by increased Ca2+-activated ATPase activity. This may be down-regulated in all groups with malnutrition, without any observable alterations in the isomyosin profile.

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