Posts Tagged ‘mighty mice’

By studying the genes of a German child born with unusually well developed muscles, an international research team has discovered the first evidence that the gene whose loss makes “mighty mice” also controls muscle growth in people.

Writing in the June 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, German neurologist Markus Schuelke, M.D., and the team show that the child’s extra-large muscles are due to an inherited mutation that effectively silences the myostatin gene, proving that its protein normally keeps muscle development in check in people.

People with muscle-wasting conditions such as muscular dystrophy, and others just wanting to “bulk up,” have eagerly followed work on myostatin, hoping for a way to counteract the protein’s effects in order to build or rebuild muscle mass. But while research with mice has continued to reveal myostatin’s role and the effects of interfering with it, no one knew whether any of the results would be relevant to humans.

“This is the first evidence that myostatin regulates muscle mass in people as it does in other animals,” says Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and genetics in the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at Johns Hopkins and co-author on the study. “That gives us a great deal of hope that agents already known to block myostatin activity in mice may be able to increase muscle mass in humans, too.”

Lee and his team discovered in 1997 that knocking out the myostatin gene led to mice that were twice as muscular as their normal siblings, lending them the moniker “mighty mice.” Later, others showed that naturally bulky cattle, such as Belgian Blues, got their extra muscles from lack of myostatin, too.

An unusual opportunity to examine myostatin’s role in humans arose when Schuelke examined a newborn baby boy, almost five years ago, and was struck by the visible muscles on the infant’s upper legs and upper arms. When ultrasound proved that the muscles were roughly twice as large as other infants’, but otherwise normal, Schuelke realized that a naturally occurring mutation in the child’s myostatin gene might be the cause.

Sequencing the myostatin gene from the boy and his mother, who had been a professional athlete, revealed a single change in the building blocks of the gene’s DNA. Surprisingly, the change was not in the gene regions that correspond to the resulting protein, but in the intervening regions that are used only to create protein-making instructions, thus changing the gene’s protein-building message.

“The mutation caused the gene’s message, the messenger RNA, to be wrong,” says Hopkins

neurologist Kathryn Wagner, M.D., Ph.D., who tested the genetic mutation’s effect in laboratory studies. “If the message had been used to make a protein, it would be much shorter than it should be. But we think the process doesn’t even get that far; instead the cells just destroy the message.”

Co-authors from Wyeth Research, Cambridge, Mass., analyzed samples of the child’s blood for evidence of the myostatin protein and found none. “Both copies of the child’s myostatin gene have this mutation, so little if any of the myostatin protein is made,” says Schuelke. “As a result, he has about twice the muscle mass of other children.”

Completely lacking myostatin, the boy is stronger than other children his age, and fortunately has no signs of problems with his heart so far, Schuelke says. But he adds that it’s impossible to know whether the lack of myostatin in that crucial muscle might lead to problems as the boy gets older.

While other family members — the boy’s mother and her brother, father and grandfather — were also reported to have been usually strong, only the mother’s DNA was available for analysis along with her son’s. Schuelke discovered that only one copy of the mother’s myostatin gene had the mutation found in both copies of her son’s myostatin gene. (We have two copies of each gene; one inherited from the mother and one inherited from the father.)

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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 Contact: Joanna Downer
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

 

The Johns Hopkins researchers were funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The German researchers were funded by the parents’ self-help group (Helft dem muskelkranken Kind).

Authors on the paper are Schuekle, Christoph Hubner, Thomas Riebel and Wolfgang Komen of Charite, University Medical Center Berlin, Germany; Wagner and Lee of Johns Hopkins; Leslie Stolz and James Tobin of Wyeth Research, Cambridge, Ma.; and Thomas Braun of Martin-Luther-University, Halle-Wittenberg, Germany.

*Under a licensing agreement between MetaMorphix Inc. and The Johns Hopkins University, Lee is entitled to a share of royalty received by the University on sales of products described in this article. Lee also is entitled to a share of sublicensing income from arrangements between MetaMorphix and American Home Products (Wyeth Ayerst Laboratories) and Cape Aquaculture Technologies. Lee and the University own MetaMorphix Inc. stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under University policy. Lee owns Cape Aquaculture Technologies stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under University policy. Lee has served as a paid consultant to MetaMorphix Inc. The terms of these arrangements are being managed by The Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

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The Johns Hopkins scientists who first created “mighty mice” have developed, with pharmaceutical company Wyeth and the biotechnology firm MetaMorphix, an agent that’s more effective at increasing muscle mass in mice than a related potential treatment for muscular dystrophy now in clinical trials.

The new agent is a version of a cellular docking point for the muscle-limiting protein myostatin. In mice, just two weekly injections of the new agent triggered a 60 percent increase in muscle size, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published and available publicly through the journal’s website.

The researchers’ original mighty mice, created by knocking out the gene that codes for myostatin, grew muscles twice as big as normal mice. An antibody against myostatin now in clinical trials caused mice to develop muscles 25 percent larger than those of untreated mice after five weeks or more of treatment.

The researchers’ expectation is that blocking myostatin might help maintain critical muscle strength in people whose muscles are wasting due to diseases like muscular dystrophy or side effects from cancer treatment or AIDS.

“This new inhibitor of myostatin, known as ACVR2B, is very potent and gives very dramatic effects in the mice,” says Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of molecular biology and genetics in Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences. “Its effects were larger and faster than we’ve seen with any other agent, and they were even larger than we expected.”

ACVR2B is the business end of a cellular docking point for the myostatin protein, and it probably works in part by mopping up myostatin so it can’t exert its muscle-inhibiting influence. But the researchers’ experiments also show that the new agent’s extra potency stems from its ability to block more than just myostatin, says Lee.

“We don’t know how many other muscle-limiting proteins there may be or which ones they are,” says Lee, “but these experiments clearly show that myostatin is not the whole story.”

The evidence for other players came from experiments with mighty mice themselves. Because these mice don’t have any myostatin, any effects of injecting the new agent would come from its effects on other proteins, explains Lee. After five injections over four weeks, mighty mice injected with the new agent had muscles 24 percent larger than their counterparts that didn’t get the new agent.

“In some ways this was supposed to be a control experiment,” says Lee. “We weren’t really expecting to see an effect, let alone an effect that sizeable.”

In other experiments with normal female mice, weekly injections of the new agent provided the biggest effect on muscle growth after just two weeks at the highest dose given (50 milligrams per kilogram mouse weight). Depending on the muscle group analyzed, the treated mice’s muscles were bigger than untreated mice by 39 percent (the gastrocnemius [calf] muscle) to 61 percent (the triceps).

After just one week, mice given a fifth of that highest dose had muscles 16 percent to 25 percent bigger than untreated mice, depending on the muscle group analyzed, and mice treated with one injection a week for two, three or four weeks continued to gain muscle mass.

But although the new agent seems quite promising, its advantage in potency also requires extra caution. “We don’t know what else the new agent is affecting or whether those effects will turn out to be entirely beneficial,” says Lee.

Lee says they also are conducting experiments with the mice now to see whether the effect lasts after injections cease and whether it helps a mouse model of muscular dystrophy retain enough muscle strength to prolong life.

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: Joanna Downer
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

The research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Cancer Institute and by funds from Wyeth Research and MetaMorphix Inc. The new agent was produced and first tested at Wyeth, and the inhibitor used in the current mouse studies was produced at MetaMorphix. All of the mouse studies described in this article and in the PNAS paper were conducted in Lee’s laboratory at Johns Hopkins.

Authors on the report are Se-Jin Lee and Suzanne Sebald of Johns Hopkins; Lori Reed of Wyeth Exploratory Drug Safety, and Monique Davies, Stefan Girgenrath, Mary Goad, Kathy Tomkinson, Jill Wright and Neil Wolfman of Wyeth Discovery Research; Christopher Barker, Gregory Ehrmantraut, James Holmstrom and Betty Trowell of MetaMorphix Canada; Barry Gertz, Man-Shiow Jiang, Li-fang Liang, Edwin Quattlebaum and Ronald Stotish of MetaMorphix, Beltsville, Md.; Martin Matzuk of Baylor College of Medicine; and En Li of Harvard Medical School.

Myostatin was licensed by The Johns Hopkins University to MetaMorphix and sublicensed to Wyeth. Lee is entitled to a share of sales royalty received by The Johns Hopkins University from sales of this factor. The Johns Hopkins University and Lee also own MetaMorphix stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under university policy. Lee is a paid consultant to MetaMorphix. The terms of these arrangements are being managed by the university in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

On the Web: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0505996102v1