Background: Collagen VI related myopathies encompass a range of phenotypes with involvement of skeletal muscle, skin and other connective tissues. They represent a severe and relatively common form of congenital disease for which there is no treatment. Collagen VI in skeletal muscle and skin is produced by fibroblasts.
Aims & methods: In order to gain insight into the consequences of collagen VI mutations and identify key disease pathways we performed global gene expression analysis of dermal fibroblasts from patients with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy with and without vitamin C treatment. The expression data were integrated using a range of systems biology tools. Results were validated by real-time PCR, western blotting and functional assays.
Findings: We found significant changes in the expression levels of almost 600 genes between collagen VI deficient and control fibroblasts. Highly regulated genes included extracellular matrix components and surface receptors, including integrins, indicating a shift in the interaction between the cell and its environment. This was accompanied by a significant increase in fibroblasts adhesion to laminin. The observed changes in gene expression profiling may be under the control of two miRNAs, miR-30c and miR-181a, which we found elevated in tissue and serum from patients and which could represent novel biomarkers for muscular dystrophy. Finally, the response to vitamin C of collagen VI mutated fibroblasts significantly differed from healthy fibroblasts. Vitamin C treatment was able to revert the expression of some key genes to levels found in control cells raising the possibility of a beneficial effect of vitamin C as a modulator of some of the pathological aspects of collagen VI related diseases.