To study the role of (pro)collagen synthesis in the differentiation of rat L6 skeletal myoblasts, a specific inhibitor of collagen synthesis, ethyl-3,4-dihydroxybenzoate (DHB), was utilized. It is shown that DHB reversibly inhibits both morphological and biochemical differentiation of myoblasts, if it is added to the culture medium before the cell alignment stage. The inhibition is alleviated partially by ascorbate, which along with alpha-ketoglutarate serves as cofactor for the enzyme, prolyl hydroxylase. DHB drastically decreases the secretion of procollagen despite an increase in the levels of the mRNA for pro alpha 1(I) and pro alpha 2(I) chains. Probably, the procollagen chains produced in the presence of DHB, being underhydroxylated, are unable to fold into triple helices and are consequently degraded in situ. Along with the inhibition of procollagen synthesis, DHB also decreases markedly the production of a collagen-binding glycoprotein (gp46) present in the ER. The results suggest that procollagen production and/or processing is needed as an early event in the differentiation pathway of myoblasts.

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