Sepsis is associated with a pronounced catabolic response in skeletal muscle, mainly reflecting degradation of the myofibrillar proteins actin and myosin. Recent studies suggest that sepsis-induced muscle proteolysis may reflect ubiquitin-proteasome-dependent protein breakdown. An apparently conflicting observation is that the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway does not degrade intact myofibrils. Thus, it is possible that actin and myosin need to be released from the myofibrils before they can be ubiquitinated and degraded by the proteasome. We tested the hypothesis that sepsis results in disruption of Z-bands, increased expression of calpains, and calcium-dependent release of myofilaments in skeletal muscle. Sepsis induced in rats by cecal ligation and puncture resulted in increased gene expression of micro-calpain, m-calpain, and p94 and in Z-band disintegration in the extensor digitorum longus muscle. The release of myofilaments from myofibrillar proteins was increased in septic muscle. This response to sepsis was blocked by treating the rats with dantrolene, a substance that inhibits the release of calcium from intracellular stores to the cytoplasm. The present results provide evidence that sepsis is associated with Z-band disintegration and a calcium-dependent release of myofilaments in skeletal muscle. Release of myofilaments may be an initial and perhaps rate-limiting component of sepsis-induced muscle breakdown.