Genetic analysis of the role of proteolysis in the activation of latent myostatin

PLoS One. 2008 Feb 20;3(2):e1628. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001628.


Myostatin is a secreted protein that normally acts to limit skeletal muscle growth. As a result, there is considerable interest in developing agents capable of blocking myostatin activity, as such agents could have widespread applications for the treatment of muscle degenerative and wasting conditions. Myostatin normally exists in an inactive state in which the mature C-terminal portion of the molecule is bound non-covalently to its N-terminal propeptide. We previously showed that this latent complex can be activated in vitro by cleavage of the propeptide with members of the bone morphogenetic protein-1/tolloid (BMP-1/TLD) family of metalloproteases. Here, I show that mice engineered to carry a germline point mutation rendering the propeptide protease-resistant exhibit increases in muscle mass approaching those seen in mice completely lacking myostatin. Mice homozygous for the point mutation have increased muscling even though their circulating levels of myostatin protein are dramatically increased, consistent with an inability of myostatin to be activated from its latent state. Furthermore, I show that a loss-of-function mutation in Tll2, which encodes one member of this protease family, has a small, but significant, effect on muscle mass, implying that its function is likely redundant with those of other family members. These findings provide genetic support for the hypothesis that proteolytic cleavage of the propeptide by BMP-1/TLD proteases plays a critical role in the activation of latent myostatin in vivo and suggest that targeting the activities of these proteases may be an effective therapeutic strategy for enhancing muscle growth in clinical settings of muscle loss and degeneration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 1
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / physiology
  • Metalloendopeptidases / genetics
  • Metalloendopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Metalloendopeptidases / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Muscular Diseases / drug therapy
  • Myostatin
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Point Mutation
  • Protein Precursors / genetics
  • Protein Precursors / metabolism*
  • Tolloid-Like Metalloproteinases
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Mstn protein, mouse
  • Myostatin
  • Protein Precursors
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Peptide Hydrolases
  • Tolloid-Like Metalloproteinases
  • Metalloendopeptidases
  • Tll2 protein, mouse
  • Bmp1 protein, mouse
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 1