Collagen turnover is now known to occur more rapidly in body tissues than traditionally believed, but the kinetics and mechanisms for degradation are still poorly understood. Here we measure collagen synthesis rates and the proportion of newly synthesized collagen (probably procollagen) which is rapidly degraded, in tissues of the adult rat after injection of [14C]-proline with a large "flooding" dose of unlabelled proline. Incorporation of [14C]-proline into lung, heart, skeletal muscle and skin collagen and its appearance as hydroxy [14C]-proline, free or in small molecular weight moieties, at various times up to one hour, suggested extremely rapid synthesis and degradation for some tissues of the adult rat. Values in heart, lung, skeletal muscle and skin (with the proportion of degradation of newly synthesized collagen shown in parentheses) were 5.2 +/- 0.7%/day (53 +/- 5%), 9.0 +/- 0.7%/day (37 +/- 2%), 2.2 +/- 0.3%/day (38 +/- 7%) and 4.4 +/- 1.3%/day (8.8 +/- 0.5%). These data provide in vivo evidence, which are consistent with the observation in isolated cells, that a proportion of newly synthesized collagen is degraded rapidly, and probably intracellularly, after its synthesis. They also indicate that collagen may be synthesized and degraded rapidly in normal rat tissues, but the mean turnover rates and the proportions of collagen degraded intracellularly vary widely between tissues.