Dystonia musculorum (dt) was originally described as a hereditary sensory neurodegeneration syndrome of the mouse. The gene defective in dt encodes a cytoskeletal linker protein, dystonin, that is essential for maintaining neuronal cytoskeletal integrity. In addition to the nervous system, dystonin is expressed in a variety of other tissues, including muscle. We now show that dystonin cross-links actin and desmin filaments and that its levels are increased during myogenesis, coinciding with the progressive reorganization of the intermediate filament network. A disorganization of cytoarchitecture in skeletal muscle from dt/dt mice was observed in ultrastructural studies. Myoblasts from dt/dt mice fused to form myotubes in culture; however, terminally differentiated myotubes contained incompletely assembled myofibrils. Another feature observed in dt/dt myotubes in culture and in skeletal muscle in situ was an accumulation and abnormal distribution of mitochondria. The diaphragm muscle from dt/dt mice was weak in isometric contractility measurements in vitro and was susceptible to contraction-induced sarcolemmal damage. Altogether, our data indicate that dystonin is a cross-linker of actin and desmin filaments in muscle and that it is essential for establishing and maintaining proper cytoarchitecture in mature muscle.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.