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Hum Mol Genet. 2002 Oct 1;11(21):2645-55.

Overexpression of a calpastatin transgene in mdx muscle reduces dystrophic pathology.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics and UCLA Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Research Center, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA.


Reduced sarcolemmal integrity in dystrophin-deficient muscles of mdx mice and Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) patients has been reported to result in altered calcium homeostasis. Previous studies have shown a correlative relationship between calcium-dependent protease (calpain) activity in dystrophic muscle and muscle necrosis, but have not tested whether calpain activation precedes cell death or is a consequence of it. To test a causal relationship between calpain activation and muscle cell death in dystrophin deficiency, mdx mice were generated that overexpress a calpastatin transgene in muscle. Calpastatin (CS) is a specific, endogenous inhibitor of m- and micro -calpains that does not inhibit calpain 3 (p94). CS overexpression on a C57/BL 10 background produced no phenotype. Transgenic (Tg) mice crossed with mdx mice were tested for pathological indicators of necrosis, regeneration and membrane damage. Two lines of mice were examined, with different levels of CS overexpression. Both lines of Tg/mdx mice showed reductions in muscle necrosis at 4 weeks of age. These mice had fewer as well as smaller lesions. In addition, one line of mice had significantly less regeneration, indicating a reduction in previous necrosis. The extent of improvement correlated with the level of CS protein expression. Membrane damage, as assessed by procion orange and creatine kinase assays, was unchanged, supporting the idea that calpains act downstream of the primary muscle defect. These data suggest that calpains play an active role in necrotic processes in dystrophic muscle and that inhibition of calpains might provide a good therapeutic option for treatment of DMD.

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