Transgenic expression of the α7 integrin can ameliorate muscle pathology in a mouse model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (mdx/utr(-/-)) and thus can compensate for the loss of dystrophin in diseased mice. In spite of the beneficial effects of the α7 integrin in protecting mice from dystrophy, identification of molecular signaling events responsible for these changes remains to be established. The purpose of this study was to determine a role for signaling in the amelioration of muscular dystrophy by α7 integrin. Activation of PI3K, ILK, AKT, mTOR, p70S6K, BAD, ERK, and p38 was measured in the muscle from wild type (WT), mdx/utr(-/-) and α7BX2-mdx/utr(-/-) mice using in vitro activity assays or phosphospecific antibodies and western blotting. Significant increases in PI3K activity (47%), ILK activity (2.0-fold), mTOR (Ser2448) (57%), p70S6K (Thr389) (11.7-fold), and ERK (Thr202/Tyr204) (66%) were demonstrated in dystrophic mdx/utr(-/-) muscle compared to WT. A significant decrease in p38 phosphorylation (2.9-fold) was also observed. Although most of these signaling events were similar in dystrophic mdx/utr(-/-) mice overexpressing the α7 integrin, the AKT (Ser473):AKT ratio (2-fold vs. WT) and p70S6K phosphorylation (18-fold vs. WT) were higher in α7BX2-mdx/utr(-/-) compared to mdx/utr(-/-) mice. In addition, increased phosphorylation of BAD Serine 112 may contribute to the significant reduction in TUNEL(+) cells observed in α7BX2-mdx/utr(-/-) mice. We conclude that the α7β1 integrin confers a protective effect in dystrophic muscle through the activation of the ILK, AKT, p70S6K and BAD signaling to promote muscle cell survival.
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