Muscular dystrophy is a general term encompassing muscle disorders that cause weakness and wasting, typically leading to premature death. Membrane instability, as a result of a genetic disruption within the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex (DGC), is thought to induce myofiber degeneration, although the downstream mechanism whereby membrane fragility leads to disease remains controversial. One potential mechanism that has yet to be definitively proven in vivo is that unregulated calcium influx initiates disease in dystrophic myofibers. Here we demonstrate that calcium itself is sufficient to cause a dystrophic phenotype in skeletal muscle independent of membrane fragility. For example, overexpression of transient receptor potential canonical 3 (TRPC3) and the associated increase in calcium influx resulted in a phenotype of muscular dystrophy nearly identical to that observed in DGC-lacking dystrophic disease models, including a highly similar molecular signature of gene expression changes. Furthermore, transgene-mediated inhibition of TRPC channels in mice dramatically reduced calcium influx and dystrophic disease manifestations associated with the mdx mutation (dystrophin gene) and deletion of the delta-sarcoglycan (Scgd) gene. These results demonstrate that calcium itself is sufficient to induce muscular dystrophy in vivo, and that TRPC channels are key disease initiators downstream of the unstable membrane that characterizes many types of muscular dystrophy.
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