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Lab Invest. 1998 Aug;78(8):1005-16.

Apoptotic myonuclei in human Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, and Institute of Experimental and Laboratory Medicine, University of Padova, Italy.


The current view that apoptosis precedes necrosis in death of dystrophin-deficient muscle fibers of the mdx mouse has been well substantiated. Moreover, apoptotic myonuclei have been reported to increase in dystrophin-deficient mice 2 days after spontaneous exercise. To investigate the role of apoptosis in human muscular dystrophy, muscles from 11 patients of different ages with Duchenne muscular dystrophy were analyzed for apoptosis. The amount of apoptosis was assessed by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase assay, and the expression of bcl-2 and bax was examined by immunohistochemistry. Although very rare in normal muscles (less than 0.1%), apoptotic nuclei were detected in dystrophic muscles, particularly at the interstitial level. Nevertheless, few dystrophin-deficient myofibers with centrally located nuclei showed a positive reaction for DNA fragmentation. A mosaic pattern of bcl-2/bax-positive myofibers characterized dystrophic muscles, thus the relative proportion of pro- and antiapoptotic proteins differs among muscle fibers in correlation with the presence of apoptotic myonuclei. In the interstitium, apoptotic cells were identified as macrophages and activated satellite cells. This is the first study to show an apoptotic process in adult muscle fibers of patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, thereby shedding new light on muscle damage and its progression in dystrophinopathies.

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