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Meat Sci. 2010 Sep;86(1):184-95. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2010.05.004. Epub 2010 May 20.

Biochemistry of postmortem muscle - lessons on mechanisms of meat tenderization.

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Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.


It is certain that meat tenderness is a highly valued consumer trait and thus definition of the multiple processes that influence meat tenderness will provide clues toward improving meat quality and value. The natural process by which meat becomes tender is complex. Tenderness development is dependent on the architecture and the integrity of the skeletal muscle cell and on events that modify those proteins and their interaction. Specifically protein degradation and protein oxidation have been identified as processes that modify proteins as well as the tenderness of meat. The intracellular environment is a major factor that controls these events. Ultimately, the interplay between these events determines the rate and extent of tenderization. Given the intricacy of the structure of the muscle cell, coupled with the complexity of the regulation of protein modification and the ever-changing intracellular environment it is not surprising that this area of research is a very dynamic field. Just as the overall integrity and function of muscle cells does not depend on a single protein, but rather on the coordinated interaction of several proteins, the structural weakening of muscle cells during postmortem aging also must not depend on the degradation of a single myofibrillar or other cytoskeletal protein. The proteins mentioned in this review are located in different regions of the muscle cell, and most have been implicated in some manner as being important in maintaining the structure and function of the muscle cell. Oxidation of myosin heavy chain, a predominant protein in the myofibril, is known to promote aggregation and toughening of meat. Degradation of proteins such as desmin, filamin, dystrophin, and talin (all located at the periphery of the Z-line) may disrupt the lateral register and integrity of the myofibril themselves as well as the attachments of the peripheral layer of myofibril to the sarcolemma. Degradation of the proteins within the myofibril that are associated with the thick and thin filaments may allow lateral movement or breaks to occur within the sarcomeres of postmortem aged samples. Titin, nebulin, and troponin-T, by their ability to directly interact with, or modulate the interaction between, major proteins of the thick and thin filaments and (or) the Z-line, play key roles in muscle cell integrity. Disruption of these proteins, especially titin and nebulin, could initiate further physicochemical and structural changes that result in myofibril fragmentation and loss of muscle cell integrity, and ultimately in tenderization of the muscle. In order to make real progress in this area, the scientific community must have a global appreciation of how both the structural proteins and the key proteases are influenced by the vast changes that occur during the conversion of muscle to meat.

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