Muscle protein catabolism is a considerable clinical problem following surgery. However, the impact of surgical trauma on muscle protein synthesis is not well characterized. In this pilot study, we therefore investigated whether the severity of surgical trauma is related to a decrease in muscle protein synthesis rate in humans. Metabolically healthy patients (n=28) were included in the study. Eight of the patients were day-care patients undergoing minor breast surgery (defined as minor surgery). The other 20 patients were subjected to major abdominal surgery and were therefore scheduled to stay overnight in the recovery room during the first postoperative night (defined as major surgery). Protein FSRs (fractional synthesis rates) in skeletal muscle were determined during a measurement period of 90 min before surgery and immediately after termination of surgery. FSR in skeletal muscle of the minor surgery patients was 1.72±0.25%/24 h before surgery and 1.67±0.29%/24 h after surgery (P=0.68). In the major surgery group, FSR was 1.62±0.30%/24 h before surgery and 1.57±0.40%/24 h (P=0.59) immediately following surgery. The observations made in this pilot study could not confirm a size-related decrease in muscle protein synthesis immediately following minor and major surgery. This finding is discussed in relation to confounders, postoperative course and to muscle protein degradation. The shortage of knowledge in this field is emphasized.

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