New function of the myostatin/activin type I receptor (ALK4) as a mediator of muscle atrophy and muscle regeneration

FASEB J. 2017 Jan;31(1):238-255. doi: 10.1096/fj.201600675R. Epub 2016 Oct 12.


Skeletal muscle fibrosis and impaired muscle regeneration are major contributors to muscle wasting in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Muscle growth is negatively regulated by myostatin (MSTN) and activins. Blockage of these pathways may improve muscle quality and function in DMD. Antisense oligonucleotides (AONs) were designed specifically to block the function of ALK4, a key receptor for the MSTN/activin pathway in skeletal muscle. AON-induced exon skipping resulted in specific Alk4 down-regulation, inhibition of MSTN activity, and increased myoblast differentiation in vitro Unexpectedly, a marked decrease in muscle mass (10%) was found after Alk4 AON treatment in mdx mice. In line with in vitro results, muscle regeneration was stimulated, and muscle fiber size decreased markedly. Notably, when Alk4 was down-regulated in adult wild-type mice, muscle mass decreased even more. RNAseq analysis revealed dysregulated metabolic functions and signs of muscle atrophy. We conclude that ALK4 inhibition increases myogenesis but also regulates the tight balance of protein synthesis and degradation. Therefore, caution must be used when developing therapies that interfere with MSTN/activin pathways.-Pasteuning-Vuhman, S., Boertje-van der Meulen, J. W., van Putten, M., Overzier, M., ten Dijke, P., Kiełbasa, S. M., Arindrarto, W., Wolterbeek, R., Lezhnina, K. V., Ozerov, I. V., Aliper, A. M., Hoogaars, W. M., Aartsma-Rus, A., Loomans, C. J. M. New function of the myostatin/activin type I receptor (ALK4) as a mediator of muscle atrophy and muscle regeneration.

Keywords: Duchenne muscular dystrophy; antisense oligonucleotides; muscle mass; muscle metabolism; myostatin/activin pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activin Receptors, Type I / genetics
  • Activin Receptors, Type I / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line
  • DNA Damage
  • Down-Regulation
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred mdx
  • Muscle Development / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Myoblasts / physiology*
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / pharmacology
  • RNA / genetics
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Regeneration / genetics
  • Regeneration / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • RNA
  • Activin Receptors, Type I
  • Acvr1b protein, mouse