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Adaptations In Myosin Heavy Chain Expression And Contractile Function In Dystrophic Mouse Diaphragm

B. J. Petrof, H. H. Stedman, J. B. Shrager, J. Eby, H. L. Sweeney, A. M. Kelly

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The X chromosome-linked muscular dystrophic (mdx) mouse lacks the subsarcolemmal protein dystrophin and thus represents a genetic homologue of human Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The present study examined alterations in diaphragm contractile properties and myosin heavy chain (MHC) expression in young (3-4 mo) and old (22-24 mo) control and mdx mice. In young mdx mice, maximum isometric tension (Po) was reduced to 50% of control values. An increase in fibers coexpressing types I (slow) and IIa MHC as well as regenerating fibers expressing embryonic MHC occurred, whereas IIx/b fibers were decreased. In the old mdx group, Po underwent a further reduction to 25% of control, and there was a slowing of twitch kinetics along with markedly increased diaphragm endurance. These changes were associated with an approximate sevenfold increase in type I MHC fibers and virtual elimination of the IIx/b fiber population; there was no detectable embryonic MHC expression. We conclude that the mdx diaphragm responds to progressive muscle degeneration with transition to a slower phenotype associated with reduced power output and augmented muscle endurance. In the setting of progressive muscle fiber destruction, these changes may help preserve contractile function and promote greater survival of remaining muscle fibers by decreasing cellular energy requirements.