The identities of extracellular growth factors that regulate skeletal muscle development in vivo are largely unknown. We asked if FGFs, which act as repressors of myogenesis in culture, play a similar role in vivo by ectopically expressing in the developing limb a truncated FGF receptor 1 (dnFGFR1) that acts as a dominant negative mutant. Hind limbs and the adjacent somites of Hamburger and Hamilton (HH) stage 17 chickens were infected with a replication-competent RCAS virus encoding dnFGFR1. By ED5, the virus had spread extensively within the limb and the adjacent somites with little rostral or caudal expansion of the infection along the axial midline. Viral infection and mutant receptor expression were coincident as revealed by the distribution of a viral coat protein and an HA epitope tag present on the carboxy terminus of dnFGFR1. Within 48 h following injection of dnFGFR1, we could detect no obvious changes in skeletal muscle precursor cell migration into the hind limb as compared to control limbs infected with an empty RCAN virus. However, by 3 days following infection of RCAS-dnFGFR1 virus, the level of skeletal muscle-specific myosin heavy chain was decreased and the expression pattern altered, suggesting disruption of skeletal muscle development. Two striking muscular phenotypes were observed in dnFGFR1-expressing limbs, including an average loss of 30% in skeletal muscle wet weight and a 50% decrease in myofiber density. At all ages examined the loss of skeletal muscle mass was accompanied by a loss of myoblasts and an unexpected concomitant loss of fibroblasts. Consistent with these observations, explants of infected cells revealed a reduction in the number of myonuclei in myotubes. Although the myofiber density per unit area was decreased over 50% compared to controls there were no detectable effects on myofiber diameter. The loss in myofiber density was, however, accompanied by an increase in the space surrounding individual myofibers and a generalized loss of myofiber integrity. It is noteworthy that long-bone development was unaffected by RCAS-dnFGFR1 infection, suggesting that FGFR2 and FGFR3 signaling was not disrupted. Our data provide conclusive evidence that FGFR1 signaling is necessary to maintain myoblast number and plays a role in myofiber organization.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.