Denervation-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and autophagy in skeletal muscle of apoptosis-deficient animals

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2012 Aug 15;303(4):C447-54. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00451.2011. Epub 2012 Jun 6.


Skeletal muscle undergoes remarkable adaptations in response to chronic decreases in contractile activity, such as a loss of muscle mass, decreases in both mitochondrial content and function, as well as the activation of apoptosis. Although these adaptations are well known, questions remain regarding the signaling pathways that mediated these changes. Autophagy is an organelle turnover pathway that could contribute to these adaptations. The purpose of this study was to determine whether denervation-induced muscle disuse would result in the activation of autophagy gene expression in both wild-type (WT) and Bax/Bak double knockout (DKO) animals, which display an attenuated apoptotic response. Denervation caused a reduction in muscle mass for WT and DKO animals; however, there was a 40% attenuation in muscle atrophy in DKO animals. Mitochondrial state 3 respiration was significantly reduced, and reactive oxygen species production was increased by two- to threefold in both WT and DKO animals. Apoptotic markers, including cytosolic AIF and DNA fragmentation, were elevated in WT, but not in DKO animals following denervation. Autophagy proteins including LC3II, ULK1, ATG7, p62, and Beclin1 were increased similarly following denervation for both WT and DKO. Interestingly, denervation markedly increased the localization of LC3II to subsarcolemmal mitochondria, and this was more pronounced in the DKO animals. Thus denervation-induced muscle disuse activates both apoptotic and autophagic signaling pathways in muscle, and autophagic protein expression does not exhibit a compensatory increase in the presence of attenuated apoptosis. However, the absence of Bax and Bak may represent a potential signal to trigger mitophagy in muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / physiology
  • Muscle Denervation*
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscular Atrophy / pathology
  • Muscular Disorders, Atrophic / pathology
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein / genetics
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein / metabolism*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / genetics
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / metabolism*


  • Bak1 protein, mouse
  • Bax protein, mouse
  • Muscle Proteins
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein