To explore the effects of growth retardation, caused by restricted protein intake, on collagen turnover in the whole skin, Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 20) were labelled with 18O2 and fed on either an adequate (18%) or a low (3%) lactalbumin diet. Skin biopsies were obtained at intervals during the following 6 months. Independent groups of animals (n = 186) were used to determine the size of the 0.5 M-acetic acid-soluble and -insoluble collagen pools in the entire skin of healthy and malnourished rats. Collagen was estimated by measurement of hydroxyproline. Soluble-collagen synthesis rates were equivalent to 99 +/- 8 mumol of hydroxyproline/day in healthy animals and 11 +/- 2 mumol/day in malnourished rats. Insoluble-collagen synthesis rates were 32 and 5 mumol of hydroxyproline/day in the healthy and protein-depleted rats respectively. The degradation of soluble collagen amounted to 37 +/- 8 and 6 +/- 2 mumol of hydroxyproline/day in the healthy and malnourished groups respectively. Efflux of collagen from the soluble collagen, defined as the sum of the rate of soluble collagen that is degraded plus that which matures into insoluble collagen, was 70 +/- 8 and 11 +/- 2 mumol of hydroxyproline/day in the healthy and malnourished groups respectively. Insoluble collagen was not degraded in either group. The fraction of soluble collagen leaving the pool that was converted into insoluble collagen was 0.46 in both diet groups. It is concluded that the turnover of soluble collagen is markedly decreased with malnutrition, but degradation and conversion into insoluble collagen account for the same proportions of efflux from the soluble-collagen pool as in rapidly growing rats.
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