Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a lethal neuromuscular disease that currently has no effective therapy. Transgenic overexpression of the alpha7 integrin in mdx/utrn(-/-) mice, a model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy ameliorates the disease. We have isolated and used alpha7(+/-) muscle cells expressing beta-galactosidase, driven by the endogenous alpha7 promoter, to identify compounds that increase alpha7 integrin levels. Valproic acid (VPA) was found to enhance alpha7 integrin levels, induce muscle hypertrophy, and inhibit apoptosis in myotubes by activating the Akt/mTOR/p70S6K pathway. This activation of the Akt pathway occurs within 1 hour of treatment and is mediated by phosphatidylinositol 3-OH kinase. To evaluate the potential use of VPA to treat muscular dystrophy, mdx/utrn(-/-) mice were injected with the drug. Treatment with VPA lowered collagen content and fibrosis, and decreased hind limb contractures. VPA-treated mice also had increased sarcolemmal integrity and decreased damage, decreased CD8-positive inflammatory cells, and higher levels of activated Akt in their muscles. Thus, VPA has important biological effects that may be applicable for the treatment of muscular dystrophy.