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J Clin Invest. 2007 Dec;117(12):3940-51.

The muscle-specific ubiquitin ligase atrogin-1/MAFbx mediates statin-induced muscle toxicity.

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  • 1Renal Division, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.

Abstract

Statins inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, a key enzyme in cholesterol synthesis, and are widely used to treat hypercholesterolemia. These drugs can lead to a number of side effects in muscle, including muscle fiber breakdown; however, the mechanisms of muscle injury by statins are poorly understood. We report that lovastatin induced the expression of atrogin-1, a key gene involved in skeletal muscle atrophy, in humans with statin myopathy, in zebrafish embryos, and in vitro in murine skeletal muscle cells. In cultured mouse myotubes, atrogin-1 induction following lovastatin treatment was accompanied by distinct morphological changes, largely absent in atrogin-1 null cells. In zebrafish embryos, lovastatin promoted muscle fiber damage, an effect that was closely mimicked by knockdown of zebrafish HMG-CoA reductase. Moreover, atrogin-1 knockdown in zebrafish embryos prevented lovastatin-induced muscle injury. Finally, overexpression of PGC-1alpha, a transcriptional coactivator that induces mitochondrial biogenesis and protects against the development of muscle atrophy, dramatically prevented lovastatin-induced muscle damage and abrogated atrogin-1 induction both in fish and in cultured mouse myotubes. Collectively, our human, animal, and in vitro findings shed light on the molecular mechanism of statin-induced myopathy and suggest that atrogin-1 may be a critical mediator of the muscle damage induced by statins.

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