BACKGROUND: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is accompanied by pulmonary inflammation and associated with extra-pulmonary manifestations, including skeletal muscle atrophy. Glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) has been implicated in the regulation of muscle protein- and myonuclear turnover; two crucial processes that determine muscle mass. In the present study we investigated the effect of the selective GSK-3 inhibitor SB216763 on muscle mass in a guinea pig model of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced pulmonary inflammation-associated muscle atrophy. METHODS: Guinea pigs were pretreated with either intranasally instilled SB216763 or corresponding vehicle prior to each LPS/saline challenge twice weekly. Pulmonary inflammation was confirmed and indices of muscle mass were determined after 12 weeks. Additionally, cultured skeletal muscle cells were incubated with tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) or glucocorticoids (GCs) to model the systemic effects of pulmonary inflammation on myogenesis, in the presence or absence of GSK-3 inhibitors. RESULTS: Repeated LPS instillation induced muscle atrophy based on muscle weight and muscle fiber cross sectional area. Intriguingly, GSK-3 inhibition using SB216763 prevented the LPS-induced muscle mass decreases and myofiber atrophy. Indices of protein turnover signaling were unaltered in guinea pig muscle. Interestingly, inhibition of myogenesis of cultured muscle cells by TNF-alpha or synthetic GCs was prevented by GSK-3 inhibitors. CONCLUSIONS: In a guinea pig model of LPS-induced pulmonary inflammation, GSK-3 inhibition prevents skeletal muscle atrophy without affecting pulmonary inflammation. Resistance to inflammation- or GC-induced impairment of myogenic differentiation, imposed by GSK-3 inhibition, suggests that sustained myogenesis may contribute to muscle mass maintenance despite persistent pulmonary inflammation. Collectively, these results warrant further exploration of GSK-3 as a potential novel drug target to prevent or reverse muscle wasting in COPD.