Purpose of review: To understand the mechanisms of muscle wasting and how inhibiting myostatin signaling affects them.
Recent findings: Myostatin signaling is critical for the understanding of the pathogenesis of muscle wasting as blocking signaling mitigates muscle losses in rodent models of catabolic diseases including cancer, chronic kidney, or heart failure.
Summary: Muscle wasting increases the risks of morbidity and mortality. But, the reliability of estimates of the degree of muscle wasting is controversial as are definitions of terms like cachexia. Much information has been learnt about the pathophysiology of muscle wasting, including the major role of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) which along with other proteases degrades protein and limits protein synthesis. In contrast, few successful strategies for reversing muscle loss have been tested. Several catabolic conditions are characterized by inflammation, increased glucocorticoid production, and impaired intracellular signaling in response to insulin and IGF-1. These characteristics lead to activation of the UPS and other proteases producing muscle wasting. Another potential initiator of muscle wasting is myostatin and its expression is increased in muscles of animal models and patients with certain catabolic conditions. Myostatin is a member of the TGF-β family; it suppresses muscle growth and its absence stimulates muscle growth substantially. Recently, pharmacologic suppression of myostatin was found to counteract inflammation, increased glucocorticoids and impaired insulin/IGF-1 signaling and most importantly, prevents muscle wasting in rodent models of cancer and kidney failure. Myostatin antagonism as a therapy for patients with muscle wasting should become a topic of clinical investigation.