Sustained elevation of circulating growth and differentiation factor-15 and a dynamic imbalance in mediators of muscle homeostasis are associated with the development of acute muscle wasting following cardiac surgery

Crit Care Med. 2013 Apr;41(4):982-9. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e318274671b.


Objectives: Acute muscle wasting in the critically ill is common and causes significant morbidity. In a novel human model of acute muscle wasting following cardiac surgery, known or potential circulating modulators of muscle mass--insulin-like growth factor-1, myostatin, and growth and differentiation factor-15--were measured over a week. It was hypothesized that patients who developed acute muscle wasting would show distinct patterns of change in these mediators.

Design: A prospective longitudinal observational study of high-risk elective cardiac surgical patients identifying, by ultrasound, those developing muscle wasting.

Setting: Tertiary cardiothoracic referral center: Royal Brompton Hospital, London, UK.

Patients: Forty-two patients undergoing elective high-risk cardiothoracic surgery.

Interventions: Circulating insulin-like growth factor-1, myostatin, and growth and differentiation factor-15 were assayed preoperatively and over the first week postoperatively. The ability of growth and differentiation factor-15 to cause muscle wasting in vitro was determined in C2C12 myotubes.

Measurements and main results: Of the 42 patients, 23 (55%) developed quadriceps atrophy. There was an acute decrease in insulin-like growth factor-1 and unexpectedly myostatin, known mediators of muscle hypertrophy and atrophy, respectively. By contrast, plasma growth and differentiation factor-15 concentrations increased in all patients. This increase in growth and differentiation factor-15 was sustained at day 7 in those who developed muscle wasting (day 7 compared with baseline, p<0.01), but recovered in the nonwasting group (p>0.05). Insulin-like growth factor-1 did not recover in those who developed muscle wasting (day 7 compared with baseline, p<0.01) but did in the nonwasting group (p>0.05). Finally, we demonstrated that growth and differentiation factor-15 caused atrophy of myotubes in vitro.

Conclusion: These data support the hypothesis that acute muscle loss occurs as a result of an imbalance between drivers of muscle atrophy and hypertrophy. Growth and differentiation factor-15 is a potential novel factor associated with muscle atrophy, which may become a therapeutic target in patients with ICU acquired paresis and other forms of acute muscle wasting.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1 / blood
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / blood*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Muscle Weakness / blood
  • Muscle Weakness / etiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscular Atrophy / metabolism*
  • Muscular Atrophy / pathology
  • Myostatin / blood
  • Nuclear Proteins / blood*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • United Kingdom


  • Biomarkers
  • IGFBP1 protein, human
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1
  • KLF15 protein, human
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors
  • Myostatin
  • Nuclear Proteins