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Pharmacol Ther. 2008 Dec;120(3):219-32. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2008.06.003. Epub 2008 Sep 16.

The potential and the pitfalls of beta-adrenoceptor agonists for the management of skeletal muscle wasting.

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Basic and Clinical Myology Laboratory, Department of Physiology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia.


The beta-adrenergic signaling pathway represents a novel therapeutic target for skeletal muscle wasting and weakness due to its role in the mechanisms controlling protein synthesis and degradation and in modulating fiber type. Stimulation of the pathway with beta-adrenoceptor agonists (beta-agonists) has therapeutic potential for muscle wasting disorders including: sarcopenia, cancer cachexia, disuse and inactivity, unloading or microgravity, sepsis and other metabolic disorders, denervation, burns, HIV-AIDS, chronic kidney or heart failure, and neuromuscular diseases. However, there are also pitfalls associated with beta-agonist administration and clinical applications have so far been limited, largely because of cardiovascular side effects. In rats and mice, newer generation beta-agonists (such as formoterol) can elicit an anabolic response in skeletal muscle even at very low doses, with reduced effects on the heart and cardiovascular system compared with older generation beta-agonists (such as fenoterol and clenbuterol). However, the potentially deleterious cardiovascular side effects of beta-agonists have not been obviated completely and so it is important to refine their development and therapeutic approach in order to overcome these obstacles. This review describes the therapeutic potential of stimulating the beta-adrenergic signaling pathway with beta-agonists, highlighting the beneficial effects on skeletal muscle structure and function and identifying some of the pitfalls associated with short- and long-term beta-agonist administration. The review also identifies some important, but as yet unanswered questions, regarding the importance of beta-adrenoceptor signaling in muscle health and disease and the strategies needed to improve the efficacy and safety of beta-agonists for muscle wasting disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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