Journal of animal science

In vitro degradation of bovine myofibrils is caused by μ-calpain, not caspase-3.

PMID 20971887


Tenderness is a key palatability trait influencing perception of consumers of meat quality and is influenced by a multitude of factors, including postmortem proteolysis. A fundamental understanding of this biological mechanism regulating tenderness is necessary to decrease variability and increase consumer satisfaction. However, reports regarding the enzyme systems involved in postmortem tenderization are conflicting. Therefore, the objective of this study was to determine if caspase-3 is responsible for the degradation of myofibrillar proteins during aging. Bovine semitendinosus muscles were removed from 2 carcasses. Muscle from the left side of each carcass was excised 20 min postmortem and utilized for in vitro analysis of protein degradation. Muscle strips were dissected from the semitendinosus, restrained to maintain length, and placed in a neutral buffer containing protease inhibitors. Upon rigor completion, myofibrils were isolated from each strip and sarcomere length was determined. Samples with similar sarcomere lengths were selected to minimize the effect of sarcomere length on proteolysis. Myofibrils were then incubated at 22°C with μ-calpain, caspase-3, or μ-calpain + caspase-3 for 0.25, 1, 3, 24, 48, or 72 h at optimum pH for enzyme activity. The semitendinosus from the right side of each carcass was excised 1 d postmortem, cut into 2.54-cm steaks, vacuum-packaged, and allowed to age for 2, 4, 7, or 10 d to evaluate normal protein degradation during beef aging. Proteolysis of troponin T, α-actinin, and desmin was monitored using SDS-PAGE and Western blotting techniques, whereas proteolysis of titin and nebulin was monitored using SDS-vertical agarose gel electrophoresis and Western blotting. Analysis of Western blots revealed no change in abundance of intact troponin T, desmin, titin, or nebulin over time in myofibrils incubated with caspase-3. However, abundance of these proteins subjected to digestion with μ-calpain and μ-calpain + caspase-3 revealed degradation patterns similar to in situ samples. No degradation of α-actinin was observed in in vitro or in situ samples. Results of this study indicate μ-calpain, not caspase-3, is responsible for the degradation of key myofibrillar proteins during beef aging.