Inactivity amplifies the catabolic response of skeletal muscle to cortisol. Academic Article uri icon


  • Severe injury or trauma is accompanied by both hypercortisolemia and prolonged inactivity or bed rest (BR). Trauma and BR alone each result in a loss of muscle nitrogen, albeit through different metabolic alterations. Although BR alone can result in a 2-3% loss of lean body mass, the effects of severe trauma can be 2- to 3-fold greater. We investigated the combined effects of hypercortisolemia and prolonged inactivity on muscle protein metabolism in healthy volunteers. Six males were studied before and after 14 days of strict BR using a model based on arteriovenous sampling and muscle biopsy. Fractional synthesis and breakdown rates of skeletal muscle protein were also directly calculated. Each assessment of protein metabolism was conducted during a 12-h infusion of hydrocortisone sodium succinate (120 microg/kg x h), resulting in blood cortisol concentrations that mimic severe injury (approximately 31 microg/dL). After 14 days of strict BR, hypercortisolemia increased phenylalanine efflux from muscle by 3-fold (P < 0.05). The augmented negative amino acid balance was the result of an increased muscle protein breakdown (P < 0.05) without a concomitant change in muscle protein synthesis. Muscle efflux of glutamine and alanine increased significantly after bed rest due to a significant increase in de novo synthesis (P < 0.05). Thus, inactivity sensitizes skeletal muscle to the catabolic effects of hypercortisolemia. Furthermore, these effects on healthy volunteers are analogous to those seen after severe injury.

author list (cited authors)

  • Ferrando, A. A., Stuart, C. A., Sheffield-Moore, M., & Wolfe, R. R.

citation count

  • 104

publication date

  • October 1999