N-Acetylcysteine ameliorates skeletal muscle pathophysiology in mdx mice

J Physiol. 2008 Apr 1;586(7):2003-14. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2007.148338. Epub 2008 Feb 7.


Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a severe degenerative muscle disease caused by a mutation in the gene encoding dystrophin, a protein linking the cytoskeleton to the extracellular matrix. In this study we investigated whether the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) provided protection against dystrophic muscle damage in the mdx mouse, an animal model of DMD. In isolated mdx muscles, NAC prevented the increased membrane permeability and reduced the force deficit associated with stretch-induced muscle damage. Three-week-old mdx mice were treated with NAC in the drinking water for 6 weeks. Dihydroethidium staining showed that NAC treatment reduced the concentration of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in mdx muscles. This was accompanied by a significant decrease in centrally nucleated fibres in muscles from NAC-treated mdx mice. Immunoblotting showed that NAC treatment decreased the nuclear protein expression of NF-kappaB, a transcription factor involved in pro-inflammatory cytokine expression. Finally, we show that NAC treatment reduced caveolin-3 protein levels and increased the sarcolemmal expression of beta-dystroglycan and the dystrophin homologue, utrophin. Taken together, our findings suggest that ROS play an important role in the dystrophic pathogenesis, both in terms of activating damage pathways and in regulating the expression of some dystrophin-associated membrane proteins. These results offer the prospect that antioxidants such as NAC could have therapeutic potential for DMD patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Caveolin 3 / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dystroglycans / metabolism
  • Dystrophin / genetics
  • Dystrophin / metabolism
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • Free Radical Scavengers / therapeutic use*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred mdx
  • Muscle Contraction / drug effects
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Animal / etiology
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Animal / physiopathology
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Animal / prevention & control*
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne / physiopathology
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne / prevention & control
  • Mutation / genetics
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Cav3 protein, mouse
  • Caveolin 3
  • Dystrophin
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • NF-kappa B
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • apo-dystrophin 1
  • Dystroglycans
  • Acetylcysteine