1. The healing of an abdominal muscle wound after surgery is associated with a considerable increase in the rate of protein synthesis. We have investigated whether this increase in protein synthesis is affected by chronic undernutrition, and whether this causes a delay in wound healing.
2. A group of rats was fed 58% of the voluntary food intake of a matched control group. After 7 days half the rats in each group underwent abdominal surgery. Forty-eight hours later all the rats were killed and muscle protein synthesis rate was measured by the flooding dose technique.
3. In a second experiment using the same dietary regimen rats were placed in metabolic cages after surgery and killed 7 days later. In addition to measurements of muscle protein synthesis, wound breaking strength was measured with a tensiometer and collagen content was also measured at the wound site.
4. Dietary restriction caused a loss of body weight, a decrease in nitrogen balance and a deficit in muscle protein mass. It also caused a decrease in protein synthesis rate in gastrocnemius muscle and in parts of the abdominal muscle distant from the site of the wound. However, it had no effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis at the site of the wound either 2 or 7 days after surgery. The tensile strength and the collagen content of the wound were also unaffected by food restriction.
5. It is concluded that the wound healing process is uniquely protected from the effects of moderate undernutrition such as might be experienced by a chronically ill patient.