The intermediate filament protein, desmin, was purified from pork longissimus dorsi and incubated with either P-calpain, m-calpain or cathepsin B. Proteolysis of desmin was followed using SDS-PAGE and Western blotting. After incubation of desmin with the proteases, cleavage sites on the desmin molecule were identified by N-terminal sequencing of the different proteolytic fragments. Desmin incubated with either m-calpain or mu-calpain was primarily cleaved in the head and tail region leaving the rod domain relatively intact even after prolonged incubation. Incubation with cathepsin B produces a sequential C-terminal degradation pattern characteristic of this dipeptylpeptidase. The substrate primary structure was not found to be essential for regulation of the proteolytic activity of the cysteine peptidases studied. However, the degradation patterns obtained imply that calpains are involved in degradation of desmin early post-mortem, targeting the non-helical region of the desmin molecule and resulting in depolymerisation and initial disorganisation of the intermediate filament structures of the muscle cell.