A better understanding of the signaling pathways that control muscle growth is required to identify appropriate countermeasures to prevent or reverse the loss of muscle mass and force induced by aging, disuse, or neuromuscular diseases. However, two major issues in this field have not yet been fully addressed. The first concerns the pathways involved in leading to physiological changes in muscle size. Muscle hypertrophy based on perturbations of specific signaling pathways is either characterized by impaired force generation, e.g., myostatin knockout, or incompletely studied from the physiological point of view, e.g., IGF-1 overexpression. A second issue is whether satellite cell proliferation and incorporation into growing muscle fibers is required for a functional hypertrophy. To address these issues, we used an inducible transgenic model of muscle hypertrophy by short-term Akt activation in adult skeletal muscle. In this model, Akt activation for 3 wk was followed by marked hypertrophy ( approximately 50% of muscle mass) and by increased force generation, as determined in vivo by ankle plantar flexor stimulation, ex vivo in intact isolated diaphragm strips, and in single-skinned muscle fibers. No changes in fiber-type distribution and resistance to fatigue were detectable. Bromodeoxyuridine incorporation experiments showed that Akt-dependent muscle hypertrophy was accompanied by proliferation of interstitial cells but not by satellite cell activation and new myonuclei incorporation, pointing to an increase in myonuclear domain size. We can conclude that during a fast hypertrophic growth myonuclear domain can increase without compromising muscle performance.
Loss of muscle mass occurs in a variety of diseases, including cancer, chronic heart failure, aquired immunodeficiency syndrome, diabetes, and renal failure, often aggravating pathological progression. Preventing muscle wasting by promoting muscle growth has been proposed as a possible therapeutic approach. Myostatin is an important negative modulator of muscle growth during myogenesis, and myostatin inhibitors are attractive drug targets. However, the role of the myostatin pathway in adulthood and the transcription factors involved in the signaling are unclear. Moreover, recent results confirm that other transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) members control muscle mass. Using genetic tools, we perturbed this pathway in adult myofibers, in vivo, to characterize the downstream targets and their ability to control muscle mass. Smad2 and Smad3 are the transcription factors downstream of myostatin/TGF-beta and induce an atrophy program that is muscle RING-finger protein 1 (MuRF1) independent. Furthermore, Smad2/3 inhibition promotes muscle hypertrophy independent of satellite cells but partially dependent of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling. Thus myostatin and Akt pathways cross-talk at different levels. These findings point to myostatin inhibitors as good drugs to promote muscle growth during rehabilitation, especially when they are combined with IGF-1-Akt activators.
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