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J Physiol. 2013 Aug 1;591(15):3765-76. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2013.254656. Epub 2013 Jun 10.

Acute failure of action potential conduction in mdx muscle reveals new mechanism of contraction-induced force loss.

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Programs in Rehabilitation Science and Physical Therapy, School of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.


A primary feature of skeletal muscle lacking the protein dystrophin, as occurring in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, is a hypersensitivity to contraction-induced strength loss. We tested the hypothesis that the extensive strength loss results from an impairment in the electrophysiological function of the plasmalemma specifically impaired action potential development. Anterior crural muscles from mdx and wildtype mice performed a single bout of 100 electrically stimulated eccentric contractions in vivo. Electromyography, specifically the M-wave, was analysed during muscle contraction to assess the ability of the tibialis anterior muscle plasmalemma to generate and conduct action potentials. During eccentric contractions, wildtype mice exhibited a 36% loss in torque about the ankle but mdx mice exhibited a greater torque loss of 73% (P < 0.001). Despite the loss of torque, there was no reduction in M-wave root mean square (RMS) for wildtype mice, which was in stark contrast to mdx mice that had a 55% reduction in M-wave RMS (P < 0.001). This impairment resolved within 24 h and coincided with a significant improvement in strength and membrane integrity. Intracellular measurements of resting membrane potential (RMP) in uninjured and injured extensor digitorum longus muscles were made to determine if a chronic depolarization had occurred, which could lead to impaired fibre excitability and/or altered action potential conduction properties. The distributions of RMP were not different between wildtype uninjured and injured muscle cells (median: -73.2 mV vs. -72.7 mV, P = 0.46) whereas there was a significant difference between mdx uninjured and injured cells (median: -71.5 mV vs. -56.6 mV, P < 0.001). These data show that mdx muscle fibres are depolarized after an injurious bout of eccentric contractions. These findings (i) suggest a major plasmalemma-based mechanism of strength loss underlying contraction-induced injury in Duchenne muscular dystrophy distinctly different from that for healthy muscle, and (ii) demonstrate dystrophin is critical for maintaining action potential generation and conduction after eccentric contractions.

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