The development of pharmacological approaches for preventing the loss of muscle proteins would be extremely valuable for cachectic patients. For example, severe wasting in cancer patients correlates with a reduced efficacy of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Pentoxifylline (PTX) is a very inexpensive xanthine derivative, which is widely used in humans as a haemorheological agent, and inhibits tumor necrosis factor transcription. We have shown here that a daily administration of PTX prevents muscle atrophy and suppresses increased protein breakdown in Yoshida sarcoma-bearing rats by inhibiting the activation of a nonlysosomal, Ca2+independent proteolytic pathway. PTX blocked the ubiquitin pathway, apparently by suppressing the enhanced expression of ubiquitin, the 14-kDa ubiquitin conjugating enzyme E2, and the C2 20S proteasome subunit in muscle from cancer rats. The 19S complex and 11S regulator associate with the 20S proteasome and regulate its peptidase activities. The mRNA levels for the ATPase subunit MSS1 of the 19S complex increased in cancer cachexia, in contrast with mRNAs of other regulatory subunits. This adaptation was suppressed by PTX, suggesting that the drug inhibited the activation of the 26S proteasome. This is the first demonstration of a pharmacological manipulation of the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in cachexia with a drug which is well tolerated in humans. Overall, the data suggest that PTX can prevent muscle wasting in situations where tumor necrosis factor production rises, including cancer, sepsis, AIDS and trauma.