The mechanism of the effect of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) on protein degradation induced by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) has been evaluated in murine myotubes. HMB (50 muM) completely attenuated total protein degradation induced by LPS (1-100 ng/ml), formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and activation of caspase-3/-8. Specific inhibitors of caspase-3/-8 completely attenuated ROS production, total protein degradation and the LPS-induced autophosphorylation of dsRNA-dependent protein kinase (PKR). Protein degradation in response to LPS or ROS production was not seen in myotubes transfected with mutant PKRDelta6, suggesting that PKR was involved in ROS production, which was essential for total protein degradation. This was confirmed using the antioxidant butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) which completely attenuated protein degradation in response to LPS. The link between PKR activation and ROS production was mediated through p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), which was activated by LPS in myotubes transfected with wild-type PKR, but not PKRDelta6. Both ROS production and protein degradation induced by LPS were completely attenuated by SB203580, a specific inhibitor of p38MAPK. This suggests that LPS induces protein degradation through a signalling cascade involving activation of caspase-3/-8, activation of PKR and production of ROS through p38MAPK, and that this process is attenuated by HMB.