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J Neurotrauma. 2012 May 20;29(8):1663-75. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.2203. Epub 2012 Apr 16.

Nandrolone normalizes determinants of muscle mass and fiber type after spinal cord injury.

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Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of SCI, James J. Peters VA Medical Center, Bronx, NY, USA.


Spinal cord injury (SCI) results in atrophy of skeletal muscle and changes from slow oxidative to fast glycolytic fibers, which may reflect reduced levels of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator-1α (PGC-1α), increased myostatin signaling, or both. In animals, testosterone reduces loss of muscle fiber cross-sectional area and activity of enzymes of energy metabolism. To identify the molecular mechanisms behind the benefits of androgens on paralyzed muscle, male rats were spinal cord transected and treated for 8 weeks with vehicle, testosterone at a physiological replacement dose, or testosterone plus nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. Treatments were initiated immediately after SCI and continued until the day animals were euthanized. In the SCI animals, gastrocnemius muscle mass was significantly increased by testosterone plus nandrolone, but not by testosterone alone. Both treatments significantly reduced nuclear content of Smad2/3 and mRNA levels of activin receptor IIB and follistatin-like 3. Testosterone alone or with nandrolone reversed SCI-induced declines in cellular and nuclear levels of PGC-1α protein and PGC-1α mRNA levels. For PGC-1α target genes, testosterone plus nandrolone partially reversed SCI-induced decreases in levels of proteins without corresponding increases in their mRNA levels. Thus, the findings demonstrate that following SCI, signaling through activin receptors and Smad2/3 is increased, and that androgens suppress activation of this signaling pathway. The findings also indicate that androgens upregulate PGC-1α in paralyzed muscle and promote its nuclear localization, but that these effects are insufficient to fully activate transcription of PGC-1α target genes. Furthermore, the transcription of these genes is not tightly coupled with their translation.

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