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N Engl J Med. 2000 Mar 16;342(11):770-80.

Desmin myopathy, a skeletal myopathy with cardiomyopathy caused by mutations in the desmin gene.

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  • 1Neuromuscular Diseases Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1382, USA.



Myofibrillar myopathies, often referred to as desmin-related myopathies, are a heterogeneous group of inherited or sporadic distal-onset skeletal myopathies associated with cardiomyopathy. Among the myofibrillar proteins that characteristically accumulate within the muscle fibers of affected patients, the one found most consistently is desmin, a muscle-specific intermediate-filament protein responsible for the structural integrity of the myofibrils. Skeletal and cardiac myopathy develops in mice that lack desmin, suggesting that mutations in the desmin gene may be pathogenic.


We examined 22 patients from 8 families with dominantly inherited myofibrillar or desmin-related myopathy and 2 patients with sporadic disease and analyzed the desmin gene for mutations, using complementary DNA (cDNA) amplified from muscle-biopsy specimens and genomic DNA extracted from blood lymphocytes. Restriction-enzyme analysis was used to confirm the mutations. Expression vectors containing normal or mutant desmin cDNA were introduced into cultured cells to determine whether the mutant desmin formed intermediate filaments.


Six missense mutations in the coding region of the desmin gene that cause the substitution of an amino acid were identified in 11 patients (10 members of 4 families and 1 patient with sporadic disease); a splicing defect that resulted in the deletion of exon 3 was identified in the other patient with sporadic disease. Mutations were clustered in the carboxy-terminal part of the rod domain, which is critical for filament assembly. In transfected cells, the mutant desmin was unable to form a filamentous network. Seven of the 12 patients with mutations in the desmin gene had cardiomyopathy.


Mutations in the desmin gene affecting intermediate filaments cause a distinct myopathy that is often associated with cardiomyopathy and is termed "desmin myopathy." The mutant desmin interferes with the normal assembly of intermediate filaments, resulting in fragility of the myofibrils and severe dysfunction of skeletal and cardiac muscles.

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