Abstract Because high calcium concentration in vitro stimulates muscle proteolysis, calcium has been implicated in the pathogenesis of increased muscle breakdown in different catabolic conditions. Protein breakdown in skeletal muscle is increased during sepsis, but the effect of sepsis on muscle calcium uptake and content is not known. In this study the influence of sepsis, induced in rats by cecal ligation and puncture, on muscle calcium uptake and content was studied. Sixteen hours after cecal ligation and puncture or sham operation, calcium content of the extensor digitorum longus (EDL) and soleus (SOL) muscles was determined with an atomic absorption spectrometer. Calcium uptake was measured in intact SOL muscles incubated in the presence of calcium 45 ( 45Ca) for between 1 and 120 minutes. Total and myofibrillar protein breakdown was determined in SOL muscles, incubated in the presence of different calcium concentrations (0; 2.5; 5.0 mmol/L), and measured as release into the incubation medium of tyrosine and 3-methylhistidine (3-MH), respectively. Calcium content was increased by 51% (p < 0.001) during sepsis in SOL and by 10% (p < 0.05) in EDL muscle. There was no difference in 45Ca uptake between control and septic muscles during the early phase (1 to 5 minutes) of incubation. During more extended incubation (30 to 120 minutes), muscles from septic rats took up significantly more 45Ca than control muscles (p < 0.05). Tyrosine release by incubated SOL muscles from control and septic rats was increased when calcium was added to the incubation medium, and at a calcium concentration of 2.5 mmol/L, the increase in tyrosine release was greater in septic than in control muscle. Addition of calcium to the incubation medium did not affect 3-MH release in control or septic muscle. The results suggest that calcium uptake and content in skeletal muscle are increased during sepsis and that high calcium concentrations in vitro stimulate nonmyofibrillar protein breakdown. Muscles from septic animals may be more sensitive to the effect of calcium in vitro than muscles from nonseptic rats. Whether increased calcium uptake and content in skeletal muscle is partly responsible for accelerated muscle proteolysis during sepsis remains to be determined.