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PLoS One. 2014 Nov 4;9(11):e111514. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111514. eCollection 2014.

Epigenetic mechanisms in respiratory muscle dysfunction of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Pulmonology Department-Muscle and Respiratory System Research Unit (URMAR), IMIM-Hospital del Mar, Parc de Salut Mar, Health and Experimental Sciences Department (CEXS), Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), Barcelona, Spain; Centro de Investigación en Red de Enfermedades Respiratorias (CIBERES), Instituto de Salud Carlos III (ISCIII), Madrid, Spain.
Thoracic Surgery Department, Hospital del Mar, Parc de Salut Mar, Barcelona, Spain.


Epigenetic events are differentially expressed in the lungs and airways of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Moreover, epigenetic mechanisms are involved in the skeletal (peripheral) muscle dysfunction of COPD patients. Whether epigenetic events may also regulate respiratory muscle dysfunction in COPD remains unknown. We hypothesized that epigenetic mechanisms would be differentially expressed in the main inspiratory muscle (diaphragm) of patients with COPD of a wide range of disease severity compared to healthy controls. In diaphragm muscle specimens (thoracotomy due to lung localized neoplasms) of sedentary patients with mild-to-moderate and severe COPD, with preserved body composition, and sedentary healthy controls, expression of muscle-enriched microRNAs, histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and deacetylases (HDACs), total DNA methylation and protein acetylation, small ubiquitin-related modifier (SUMO) ligases, muscle-specific transcription factors, and muscle structure were explored. All subjects were also clinically evaluated: lung and muscle functions and exercise capacity. Compared to healthy controls, patients exhibited moderate airflow limitation and diffusion capacity, and reduced exercise tolerance and transdiaphragmatic strength. Moreover, in the diaphragm of the COPD patients, muscle-specific microRNA expression was downregulated, while HDAC4 and myocyte enhancer factor (MEF)2C protein levels were higher, and DNA methylation levels, muscle fiber types and sizes did not differ between patients and controls. In the main respiratory muscle of COPD patients with a wide range of disease severity and normal body composition, muscle-specific microRNAs were downregulated, while HDAC4 and MEF2C levels were upregulated. It is likely that these epigenetic events act as biological adaptive mechanisms to better overcome the continuous inspiratory loads of the respiratory system in COPD. These findings may offer novel therapeutic strategies to specifically target respiratory muscle dysfunction in patients with COPD.

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