Quadrupling muscle mass in mice by targeting TGF-beta signaling pathways

PLoS One. 2007 Aug 29;2(8):e789. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000789.


Myostatin is a transforming growth factor-beta family member that normally acts to limit skeletal muscle growth. Mice genetically engineered to lack myostatin activity have about twice the amount of muscle mass throughout the body, and similar effects are seen in cattle, sheep, dogs, and a human with naturally occurring loss-of-function mutations in the myostatin gene. Hence, there is considerable interest in developing agents capable of inhibiting myostatin activity for both agricultural and human therapeutic applications. We previously showed that the myostatin binding protein, follistatin, can induce dramatic increases in muscle mass when overexpressed as a transgene in mice. In order to determine whether this effect of follistatin results solely from inhibition of myostatin activity, I analyzed the effect of this transgene in myostatin-null mice. Mstn(-/-) mice carrying a follistatin transgene had about four times the muscle mass of wild type mice, demonstrating the existence of other regulators of muscle mass with similar activity to myostatin. The greatest effect on muscle mass was observed in offspring of mothers homozygous for the Mstn mutation, raising the possibility that either myostatin itself or a downstream regulator may normally be transferred from the maternal to fetal circulations. These findings demonstrate that the capacity for increasing muscle growth by manipulating TGF-beta signaling pathways is much more extensive than previously appreciated and suggest that muscle mass may be controlled at least in part by a systemic mode of action of myostatin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Follistatin-Related Proteins
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Mutation
  • Myostatin / genetics*
  • Myostatin / metabolism
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Follistatin-Related Proteins
  • Fstl3 protein, mouse
  • Mstn protein, mouse
  • Myostatin
  • Proteins