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Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 1997 Oct;23(5):399-405.

The abnormal expression of utrophin in Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy is age related.

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Department of Paediatrics and Neonatal Medicine, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK.


Utrophin is a 395 kDa protein with considerable homology to dystrophin. It is highly expressed in the sarcolemma of normal fetal muscle fibres but is confined to neuromuscular and myotendinous junctions, and blood vessels in adult muscle. Sarcolemmal expression occurs on regenerating fibers, irrespective of the disease, and is also seen on mature fibres in Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies (DMD, BMD), and inflammatory myopathies. The reasons for the abnormal expression in DMD and BMD are unclear. We have studied this expression of utrophin immunocytochemically on mature fibres in 42 cases of DMD and BMD, aged 3 months-24 years of age. All cases had some mature fibres, with no detectable fetal myosin, that showed sarcolemmal expression of utrophin. The number of these fibers and the intensity of fluorescence was low in young cases before the age of 2 years and increased with age. The fluorescence was graded on a scale of 0 to ++ ++ and there were significantly more cases under 2 years of age (10/12) with a grading of utrophin of only +, compared with those over 2 years (4/30, P < 0.001). Some revertant fibres, but not all, expressed utrophin and dystrophin. Our data show that the abnormal expression of utrophin on mature muscle fibres in DMD and BMD is not a continuation of the expression that occurs in fetal or regenerating muscle, but is a secondary event caused by unknown factors. The immunocytochemical intensity of utrophin is variable between cases and there is no correlation with clinical severity. As all cases studied had some expression of utrophin on mature fibres, this may be a useful additional tool for distinguishing BMD from other dystrophies, especially in cases with minimal abnormalities in dystrophin expression and/or no detectable mutation in the gene.

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