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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58405. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058405. Epub 2013 Mar 7.

The role of Pitx2 in maintaining the phenotype of myogenic precursor cells in the extraocular muscles.

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Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America.


Many differences exist between extraocular muscles (EOM) and non-cranial skeletal muscles. One striking difference is the sparing of EOM in various muscular dystrophies compared to non-cranial skeletal muscles. EOM undergo continuous myonuclear remodeling in normal, uninjured adults, and distinct transcription factors are required for the early determination, development, and maintenance of EOM compared to limb skeletal muscle. Pitx2, a bicoid-like homeobox transcription factor, is required for the development of EOM and the maintenance of characteristic properties of the adult EOM phenotype, but is not required for the development of limb muscle. We hypothesize that these unique properties of EOM contribute to the constitutive differences between EOM and non-craniofacial skeletal muscles. Using flow cytometry, CD34(+)/Sca1(-/)CD45(-/)CD31(-) cells (EECD34 cells) were isolated from extraocular and limb skeletal muscle and in vitro, EOM EECD34 cells proliferated faster than limb muscle EECD34 cells. To further define these myogenic precursor cells from EOM and limb skeletal muscle, they were analyzed for their expression of Pitx2. Western blotting and immunohistochemical data demonstrated that EOM express higher levels of Pitx2 than limb muscle, and 80% of the EECD34 cells expressed Pitx2. siRNA knockdown of Pitx2 expression in EECD34 cells in vitro decreased proliferation rates and impaired the ability of EECD34 cells to fuse into multinucleated myotubes. High levels of Pitx2 were retained in dystrophic and aging mouse EOM and the EOM EECD34 cells compared to limb muscle. The differential expression of Pitx2 between EOM and limb skeletal muscle along with the functional changes in response to lower levels of Pitx2 expression in the myogenic precursor cells suggest a role for Pitx2 in the maintenance of constitutive differences between EOM and limb skeletal muscle that may contribute to the sparing of EOM in muscular dystrophies.

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