By use of different inhibitors, we distinguished three proteolytic processes in rat skeletal muscle. When soleus muscles maintained under tension were exposed to the calcium ionophore A23187 or were incubated under no tension in the presence of Ca2+, net protein breakdown increased by 50-80%. Although leupeptin and E-64 inhibit this acceleration of protein breakdown almost completely, other agents that prevent lysosomal function, such as methylamine or leucine methyl ester, did not inhibit this effect. A similar increase in net proteolysis occurred in muscle fibres injured by cutting, and this response was also inhibited by leupeptin, but not by methylamine. In contrast, all these inhibitors markedly decreased the 2-fold increase in protein breakdown induced by incubating muscles without insulin and leucine, isoleucine and valine. In addition, the low rate of proteolysis seen in muscles under passive tension in complete medium was not affected by any of these inhibitors. Thus the basal degradative process in muscle does not involve lysosomes or thiol proteinases, and muscle can enhance protein breakdown by two mechanisms: lack of insulin and nutrients enhances a lysosomal process in muscle, as in other cells, whereas Ca2+ and muscle injury activate a distinct pathway involving cytosolic thiol proteinase(s).

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