1. The protein degradation rate of human skeletal muscle was evaluated in vitro in isolated fibre bundles from the rectus abdominus muscle by measuring the tyrosine released from muscle tissue proteins. Protein metabolism in this semi-intact preparation was compared with that of the intact extensor digitorum longus muscles from rats under the same experimental conditions.
2. Protein balance was negative in both preparations, but protein synthesis and degradation were two to three times higher in the rat muscles. Tyrosine was released at a constant rate for at least 3 h of incubation independent of whether protein synthesis was inhibited or not. Disintegration of the muscle fibres more than doubled the tyrosine release rate. Human red gastrocnemius muscle showed 37% higher degradation rate compared with the predominantly white rectus abdominus muscle. The half-life of human skeletal muscle protein in vitro was estimated to be 20 days when calculated from the rate of tyrosine release.
3. The addition of leucine to the incubation medium decreased the rate of protein degradation, which was further decreased by the addition of other amino acids. Insulin did not influence the protein degradation rate during 2 h of incubation. This did not reflect a lack of sensitivity to insulin of the preparation, since protein synthesis responded to insulin. Calcium (5 mmol/l) stimulated and zinc (0.1 mmol/l) inhibited the protein degradation.
4. This experimental system may be suitable as an additional tool for evaluating protein degradation in human skeletal muscles.