We have examined the regulation of protein turnover in rat skeletal myotubes from the L8 cell line. We measured protein synthesis by the rates of incorporation of radiolabelled tyrosine into protein in the presence of a flooding dose of non-radioactive tyrosine. We monitored degradation of proteins labelled with radioactive tyrosine by the release of acid-soluble radioactivity into medium containing excess nonradioactive tyrosine. Extracellular tyrosine pools and intracellular tyrosyl-tRNA equilibrate rapidly during measurements of protein synthesis, and very little reutilization of the radiolabelled tyrosine occurs during degradation measurements. Measured rates of protein synthesis and degradation are constant for several hours, and changes in myotube protein content can be accurately predicted by the measured rates of protein synthesis and degradation. Most of the myotube proteins labelled with radioactive tyrosine for 2 days are degraded, with half-lives (t1/2) of approx. 50 h. A small proportion (less than 2.5%) of the radiolabelled proteins are degraded more rapidly (t1/2 less than 10 h), and, at most, a small proportion (less than 15%) are degraded more slowly (t1/2 greater than 50 h). A variety of agents commonly added to primary muscle cell cultures or to myoblast cell lines (18% Medium 199, 1% chick-embryo extract, antibiotics and antifungal agents) had no effect on rates of protein synthesis or degradation. Horse serum, fetal bovine serum and insulin stimulate protein synthesis and inhibit the degradation of long-lived proteins without affecting the degradation of short-lived proteins. Insulin-like growth factors (IGF)-1 and -2 also stimulate protein synthesis and inhibit protein degradation. The stimulation of protein synthesis and the inhibition of protein degradation are of similar magnitude (a maximum of approx. 2-fold) and display similar sensitivities to a particular anabolic agent. Insulin stimulates protein synthesis and inhibits protein degradation only at supraphysiological doses, whereas IGF-1 and -2 are effective at physiological concentrations. These and other findings suggest that IGFs may be important regulators of skeletal muscle growth during the fetal and early neonatal periods.

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