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J Anim Sci. 1995 May;73(5):1351-67.

Is Z-disk degradation responsible for postmortem tenderization?

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Muscle Biology Group, University of Arizona, Tucson 85721, USA.


A number of studies have suggested that Z-disk degradation is a major factor contributing to postmortem tenderization. These conclusions seem to have been based largely on experimental findings showing that the calpain system has a major role in postmortem tenderization, and that when incubated with myofibrils or muscle strips, purified calpain removes Z-disks. Approximately 65 to 80% of all postmortem tenderization occurs during the first 3 or 4 d postmortem, however, and there is little or no ultrastructurally detectable Z-disk degradation during this period. Electron microscope studies described in this paper show that, during the first 3 or 4 d of postmortem storage at 4 degrees C, both costameres and N2 lines are degraded. Costameres link myofibrils to the sarcolemma, and N2 lines have been reported to be areas where titin and nebulin filaments, which form a cytoskeletal network linking thick and thin filaments, respectively, to the Z-disk, coalesce. Filamentous structures linking adjacent myofibrils laterally at the level of each Z-disk are also degraded during the first 3 or 4 d of postmortem storage at 4 degrees C, resulting in gaps between myofibrils in postmortem muscle. Degradation of these structures would have important effects on tenderness. The proteins constituting these structures, nebulin and titin (N2 lines); vinculin, desmin, and dystrophin (three of the six to eight proteins constituting costameres); and desmin (filaments linking adjacent myofibrils) are all excellent substrates for the calpains, and nebulin, titin, vinculin, and desmin are largely degraded within 3 d postmortem in semimembranosus muscle. Electron micrographs of myofibrils used in the myofibril fragmentation index assay show that these myofibrils, which have been assumed to be broken at their Z-disks, in fact have intact Z-disks and are broken in their I-bands.

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