1. Little information is currently available on protein turnover during chronic protein loss situations. We have thus measured the whole-body and tissue protein fractional synthesis rates (ks), the whole-body fractional protein degradation rate (kd), the capacity for protein synthesis (Cs) and the efficiency of protein synthesis (kRNA) in vivo in fed and fasted (1, 5 and about 9 days) 400 g rats.
2. One day of starvation resulted in a reduced ks and an increased kd in the whole body. ks was selectively depressed in skeletal muscles, mainly owing to a reduced kRNA, and was not modified in heart, liver and skin. The contribution of skin to whole-body protein synthesis increased by 39%.
3. During the phase of protein sparing (5 days of fasting), kd in the whole body decreased below the control fed level. ks in skeletal muscles was sustained because kRNA was restored to 82–98% of the control value.
4. Rats were in a protein-wasting phase after 9 days of starvation. kd in the whole body did not increase and was actually 78% of the value observed in fed animals. By contrast, ks in the whole body and tissues decreased to 14–34% of the control values, owing to reductions in both Cs and kRNA. Whatever the duration of the fast, the contribution of the skin to whole-body protein synthesis largely exceeded that of skeletal muscle.
5. The present findings suggest that the main goal in the treatment of chronic protein loss should be to sustain protein synthesis. Our data also emphasize the importance of skin in whole-body protein synthesis in fasting and possibly in other protein loss situations.