This study was conducted to evaluate changes to antioxidant systems in the postmortem muscle of three duck breeds and to analyze their relationship with meat quality. Pekin ducks, Muscovy ducks, and Mulard ducks were euthanized at the age of 70 d. The antioxidant enzyme activities and related gene expressions as well as meat quality in muscle tissues were examined. The breed of the duck had a significant effect on the antioxidant capacity of muscle tissues (P < 0.05), with the exceptions of superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity at 96 h as well as total antioxidant capacity (T-AOC) at 120 h. The SOD, glutathione peroxidase (GPx/GSH-Px), and T-AOC activities from highest to lowest were Muscovy duck > Mulard duck > Pekin duck, whereas the malondialdehyde (MDA) concentration followed the opposite pattern. During cold storage (0–120 h), a decrease in the GPx, SOD, and T-AOC activities was noted, although MDA concentration increased gradually. The GPx1 and Cu/Zn-SOD gene expression levels in Muscovy duck muscle tissues were significantly higher than those in other breeds at both 0 and 24 h. Correlation analysis showed that higher antioxidant enzyme activity in duck muscle tissues was associated with higher water-holding capacity (WHC) and more stable meat color. Higher antioxidant enzyme activity in duck meat similarly resulted in higher pH values, higher WHC, and more stable meat color. These data indicate that antioxidant enzymes may inhibit lipid oxidation and participate in the regulation of meat quality.
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