Studies in a wide variety of animal models of muscle wasting have led to the concept that increased protein breakdown via the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway is responsible for the loss of muscle mass seen as muscle atrophy. The complexity of the ubiquitination apparatus has hampered our understanding of how this pathway is activated in atrophying muscles and which ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes in muscle are responsible. Recent experiments have shown that two newly identified ubiquitin-protein ligases (E3s), atrogin-1/MAFbx and MURF-1, are critical in the development of muscle atrophy. Other in-vitro studies also implicated E2(14k) and E3alpha, of the N-end rule pathway, as playing an important role in the process. It seems likely that multiple pathways of ubiquitin conjugation are activated in parallel in atrophying muscle, perhaps to target for degradation specific classes of muscle proteins. The emerging challenge will be to define the protein targets for, as well as inhibitors of, these E3s.