The ubiquitin proteasome system in atrophying skeletal muscle: roles and regulation

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2016 Sep 1;311(3):C392-403. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00125.2016. Epub 2016 Aug 10.


Muscle atrophy complicates many diseases as well as aging, and its presence predicts both decreased quality of life and survival. Much work has been conducted to define the molecular mechanisms involved in maintaining protein homeostasis in muscle. To date, the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) has been shown to play an important role in mediating muscle wasting. In this review, we have collated the enzymes in the UPS whose roles in muscle wasting have been confirmed through loss-of-function studies. We have integrated information on their mechanisms of action to create a model of how they work together to produce muscle atrophy. These enzymes are involved in promoting myofibrillar disassembly and degradation, activation of autophagy, inhibition of myogenesis as well as in modulating the signaling pathways that control these processes. Many anabolic and catabolic signaling pathways are involved in regulating these UPS genes, but none appear to coordinately regulate a large number of these genes. A number of catabolic signaling pathways appear to instead function by inhibition of the insulin/IGF-I/protein kinase B anabolic pathway. This pathway is a critical determinant of muscle mass, since it can suppress key ubiquitin ligases and autophagy, activate protein synthesis, and promote myogenesis through its downstream mediators such as forkhead box O, mammalian target of rapamycin, and GSK3β, respectively. Although much progress has been made, a more complete inventory of the UPS genes involved in mediating muscle atrophy, their mechanisms of action, and their regulation will be useful for identifying novel therapeutic approaches to this important clinical problem.

Keywords: hormones; muscle atrophy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscular Atrophy / metabolism*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*


  • Muscle Proteins
  • Ubiquitin
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex