Smad3 induces atrogin-1, inhibits mTOR and protein synthesis, and promotes muscle atrophy in vivo

Mol Endocrinol. 2013 Nov;27(11):1946-57. doi: 10.1210/me.2013-1194. Epub 2013 Sep 3.


Myostatin, a member of the TGF superfamily, is sufficient to induce skeletal muscle atrophy. Myostatin-induced atrophy is associated with increases in E3-ligase atrogin-1 expression and protein degradation and decreases in Akt/mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling and protein synthesis. Myostatin signaling activates the transcription factor Smad3 (Small Mothers Against Decapentaplegic), which has been shown to be necessary for myostatin-induced atrogin-1 expression and atrophy; however, it is not known whether Smad3 is sufficient to induce these events or whether Smad3 simply plays a permissive role. Thus, the aim of this study was to address these questions with an in vivo model. To accomplish this goal, in vivo transfection of plasmid DNA was used to create transient transgenic mouse skeletal muscles, and our results show for the first time that Smad3 expression is sufficient to stimulate atrogin-1 promoter activity, inhibit Akt/mTOR signaling and protein synthesis, and induce muscle fiber atrophy. Moreover, we propose that Akt/mTOR signaling is inhibited by a Smad3-induced decrease in microRNA-29 (miR-29) expression and a subsequent increase in the translation of phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) mRNA. Smad3 is also sufficient to inhibit peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator-1α (PGC1α) promoter activity and to increase FoxO (Forkhead Box Protein, Subclass O)-mediated signaling and the promoter activity of plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1). Combined, this study provides the first evidence that Smad3 is sufficient to regulate many of the events associated with myostatin-induced atrophy and therefore suggests that Smad3 signaling may be a viable target for therapies aimed at preventing myostatin-induced muscle atrophy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Mice
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics*
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscular Atrophy / metabolism*
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / genetics
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism
  • SKP Cullin F-Box Protein Ligases / genetics*
  • SKP Cullin F-Box Protein Ligases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Smad3 Protein / physiology*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcriptional Activation*
  • Tripartite Motif Proteins
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / genetics
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism


  • Muscle Proteins
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Ppargc1a protein, mouse
  • Smad3 Protein
  • Smad3 protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tripartite Motif Proteins
  • Fbxo32 protein, mouse
  • SKP Cullin F-Box Protein Ligases
  • Trim63 protein, mouse
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • mTOR protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • Pten protein, mouse