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J Mol Med (Berl). 2007 Aug;85(8):887-96. Epub 2007 Jun 30.

Myoglobin plasma level related to muscle mass and fiber composition: a clinical marker of muscle wasting?

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Department E010 (Radiology), Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, 69120, Heidelberg, Germany.


Progressive muscle wasting is a central feature of cancer-related cachexia and has been recognized as a determinant of poor prognosis and quality of life. However, until now, no easily assessable clinical marker exists that allows to predict or to track muscle wasting. The present study evaluated the potential of myoglobin (MG) plasma levels to indicate wasting of large locomotor muscles and, moreover, to reflect the loss of MG-rich fiber types, which are most relevant for daily performance. In 17 cancer-cachectic patients (weight loss 22%) and 27 age- and gender-matched healthy controls, we determined plasma levels of MG and creatine kinase (CK), maximal quadriceps muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) by magnetic resonance imaging, muscle morphology and fiber composition in biopsies from the vastus lateralis muscle, body cell mass (BCM) by impedance technique as well as maximal oxygen uptake (VO(2)max). In cachectic patients, plasma MG, muscle CSA, BCM, and VO(2)max were 30-35% below control levels. MG showed a significant positive correlation to total muscle CSA (r = 0.65, p < 0.001) and to the CSA fraction formed by type 1 and 2a fibers (r = 0.80, p < 0.001). However, when adjusted for body height and age by multiple regression, MG yielded a largely improved prediction of total CSA (multiple r = 0.83, p < 0.001) and of fiber type 1 and 2a CSA (multiple r = 0.89, p < 0.001). The correlations between CK and these muscle parameters were weaker, and elevated CK values were observed in 20% of control subjects despite a prior abstinence from exercise for 5 days. In conclusion, plasma MG, when adjusted for anthropometric parameters unaffected by weight, may be considered as a novel marker of muscle mass (CSA) indicating best the mass of MG-rich type 1 and 2a fibers as well as VO(2)max as an important functional readout. CK plasma levels appear to be less reliable because prolonged increases are observed in even subclinical myopathies or after exercise. Notably, cancer-related muscle wasting was not associated with increases in plasma MG or CK in this study.

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