Specific action of cathespins D, B, H, L, and of a new high Mr (molecular weight relative to hydrogen) cysteine proteinase, on rabbit muscle myofibrils was studied at pH 5·7 by following changes affecting their ATPase activities, their calcium sensitivity, their effect on the ultrastructure, as well as the electrophoretic pattern of the contractile proteins in the presence of SDS. With regard to the MgCa-enhanced ATPase activity, all these proteinases had a very similar effect. A decrease in this activity was thus noted concomitantly with a shift of the straight-line graph obtained when plotting the present acto-myosin ATPase activity versus KCl concentrations. Cathepsins D, B, L and the high Mr cysteine proteinase induced a decrease in both the calcium ATPase activity of myosin and the calcium sensitivity of myofibrils. On the contrary, the Mg-EGTA-dependent ATpase activity was increased. Except for cathepsin H, extensive hydrolysis of proteins occurred in myofibrils treated with each of the lysosomal proteinases tested. However, different specificities could be distinguished. On the one hand, cathepsins D and B affected mainly myofibrillar protein running above and below actin, respectively, on SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis; on the other hand, the high Mr cysteine proteinase exhibited broader specificity since most of the proteins were hydrolyzed irrespective of their Mr. Myofibrils incubated with cathepsins B and the high Mr cysteine proteinase showed ultrastructural modifications at the level of Z-line, M-bands and A-bands. Myofibrils treated with cathepsin D and cathepsin H appeared almost unaltered. On the basis of these characteristics, cathepsin H hardly affected myofibrils. These results provide evidence for the involvement of the lysosomal proteinases in the meat ageing process and are discussed in regard to the changes occurring at the myofibrillar level during conversion of muscle into meat.