The effects of a single dose of endotoxin (7.5 mg/kg BW) on skeletal muscle glutamine metabolism were studied in vivo in rats to gain further understanding of the altered glutamine metabolism that characterizes sepsis and other catabolic diseases. In endotoxin-treated animals the arterial glutamine concentration fell early initially and then increased compared with control values. Twelve hours after treatment, the arteriovenous concentration difference for glutamine across the hindquarter doubled, resulting in a significant increase in net muscle glutamine release in endotoxin-treated rats. As a consequence, the muscle glutamine concentration fell in the endotoxin-treated animals by 25%-40%, an event that was apparent as early as two hours after endotoxin treatment. Skeletal muscle glutaminase activity, the major enzyme of glutamine breakdown, was unchanged by endotoxemia, but expression of glutamine synthetase mRNA and glutamine synthetase specific activity increased in a time-dependent fashion. The glutamine depletion that develops in skeletal muscle during endotoxemia is caused by accelerated muscle glutamine release rather than an increase in intracellular degradation or a fall in intracellular biosynthesis. The adaptive increase in glutamine synthetase expression that occurs requires de novo RNA and protein synthesis and may be designed to prevent complete depletion of the intracellular glutamine pool. © 1992 by The Williams and Wilkins Co.