1. Using vanadate-facilitated [3H]ouabain binding, the effect of semi-starvation on the total concentration of [3H]ouabain-binding sites was determined in samples of rat skeletal muscle. When 12-week-old rats were semi-starved for 1, 2 or 3 weeks on one-third to half the normal daily energy intake, the [3H]ouabain-binding site concentration in soleus muscle was reduced by 19, 24 and 25% respectively. In extensor digitorum longus, diaphragm and gastrocnemius muscles the decrease after 2 weeks of semi-starvation was 15, 18 and 17% respectively. The decrease was fully reversible within 3 d of free access to the diet. Complete deprivation of food for 5 d caused a reduction of 25% in soleus muscle [3H]ouabain-binding-siteconcentration. It was excluded that the reduction in [3H]ouabain binding was due to a reduced affinity of the binding site for [3H]ouabain.
2. Semi-starvation of 12-week-old rats for 3 weeks caused a reduction of 45 and 53% in 3, 5, 3'-triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) levels respectively. As reduced thyroid hormone levels have previously been found to decrease [3H]ouabain-binding-siteconcentration in skeletal muscle, this points to the importance of T3 and T4 in the down-regulation of the [3H]ouabain-binding-siteconcentration in skeletal muscle with semi-starvation. Whereas potassium depletion caused a decrease in K content as well as in [3H]ouabain-binding-siteconcentration in skeletal muscles, semi-starvation caused only a tendency to a decrease in K content. Thus, K depletion is not a major cause of the reduction in [3H]ouabain-binding-siteconcentration with semi-starvation.
3. Due to its high concentration of Na, K pumps, skeletal muscle has a considerable capacity for clearing K from the plasma as well as for the binding of digitalis glycosides. Semi-starvation causes a severe reduction in the total skeletal muscle pool of Na, K pumps and may therefore be associated with impairment of K tolerance and increased digitalis toxicity.