In Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a genetic disruption of dystrophin protein expression results in repeated muscle injury and chronic inflammation. Magnetic resonance imaging shows promise as a surrogate outcome measure in both DMD and rehabilitation medicine that is capable of predicting clinical benefit years in advance of functional outcome measures. The mdx mouse reproduces the dystrophin deficiency that causes DMD and is routinely used for preclinical drug testing. There is a need to develop sensitive, non-invasive outcome measures in the mdx model that can be readily translatable to human clinical trials. Here we report the use of magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy techniques for the non-invasive monitoring of muscle damage in mdx mice. Using these techniques, we studied dystrophic mdx muscle in mice from 6 to 12 weeks of age, examining both the peak disease phase and natural recovery phase of the mdx disease course. T2 and fat-suppressed imaging revealed significant levels of tissue with elevated signal intensity in mdx hindlimb muscles at all ages; spectroscopy revealed a significant deficiency of energy metabolites in 6-week-old mdx mice. As the mdx mice progressed from the peak disease stage to the recovery stage of disease, each of these phenotypes was either eliminated or reduced, and the cross-sectional area of the mdx muscle was significantly increased when compared to that of wild-type mice. Histology indicates that hyper-intense MRI foci correspond to areas of dystrophic lesions containing inflammation as well as regenerating, degenerating and hypertrophied myofibers. Statistical sample size calculations provide several robust measures with the ability to detect intervention effects using small numbers of animals. These data establish a framework for further imaging or preclinical studies, and they support the development of MRI as a sensitive, non-invasive outcome measure for muscular dystrophy.
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