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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990 Jun;87(11):4275-9.

Doxorubicin selectively inhibits muscle gene expression in cardiac muscle cells in vivo and in vitro.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, CA 94305.


The anthracycline antibiotic doxorubicin produces a characteristic myopathy in cardiac muscle that limits its use in cancer therapy. We have shown in cultured neonatal rat cardiac muscle cells that doxorubicin treatment resulted in a rapid, selective decrease in the expression of muscle-specific genes, which preceded other changes characteristic of doxorubicin cardiomyopathy. Doxorubicin selectively and dramatically decreased the levels of mRNA for the sarcomeric genes, alpha-actin, troponin I, and myosin light chain 2, as well as the muscle-specific, but nonsarcomeric M isoform of creatine kinase. However, doxorubicin did not affect nonmuscle gene transcripts (pyruvate kinase, ferritin heavy chain, and beta-actin). Actinomycin D, an inhibitor of DNA-dependent RNA polymerase, did not show a similar selective decrease of muscle-specific mRNAs but, rather, produced a nonspecific, dose-dependent decrease of muscle and nonmuscle transcripts. The doxorubicin effect on muscle gene expression was limited to cardiac muscle; cultured skeletal myocytes were resistant to the effects of doxorubicin at 100-fold greater doses than those causing changes in mRNA levels in cardiac muscle cells. These effects of doxorubicin were reproduced in vivo; rats injected with doxorubicin showed a dose-dependent decrease in the levels of mRNAs for alpha-actin, troponin I, myosin light chain 2, and M isoform of creatine kinase in cardiac but not skeletal muscle. These selective changes in gene expression in cardiocyte cultures and cardiac muscle precede classical ultrastructural changes and may explain the myofibrillar loss that characterizes doxorubicin cardiac injury.

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