Exogenous GDF11 induces cardiac and skeletal muscle dysfunction and wasting

Basic Res Cardiol. 2017 Jul;112(4):48. doi: 10.1007/s00395-017-0639-9. Epub 2017 Jun 24.


Growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11), a TGF-beta superfamily member, is highly homologous to myostatin and essential for embryonic patterning and organogenesis. Reports of GDF11 effects on adult tissues are conflicting, with some describing anti-aging and pro-regenerative activities on the heart and skeletal muscle while others opposite or no effects. Herein, we sought to determine the in vivo cardiac and skeletal muscle effects of excess GDF11. Mice were injected with GDF11 secreting cells, an identical model to that used to initially identify the in vivo effects of myostatin. GDF11 exposure in mice induced whole body wasting and profound loss of function in cardiac and skeletal muscle over a 14-day period. Loss of cardiac mass preceded skeletal muscle loss. Cardiac histologic and echocardiographic evaluation demonstrated loss of ventricular muscle wall thickness, decreased cardiomyocyte size, and decreased cardiac function 10 days following initiation of GDF11 exposure. Changes in skeletal muscle after GDF11 exposure were manifest at day 13 and were associated with wasting, decreased fiber size, and reduced strength. Changes in cardiomyocytes and skeletal muscle fibers were associated with activation of SMAD2, the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway and autophagy. Thus, GDF11 over administration in vivo results in cardiac and skeletal muscle loss, dysfunction, and death. Here, serum levels of GDF11 by Western blotting were 1.5-fold increased over controls. Although GDF11 effects in vivo are likely dose, route, and duration dependent, its physiologic changes are similar to myostatin and other Activin receptors ligands. These data support that GDF11, like its other closely related TGF-beta family members, induces loss of cardiac and skeletal muscle mass and function.

Keywords: Aging; Atrophy; Autophagy; Cachexia; Cardiac function; Cardiac hypertrophy; GDF-11; GDF11; Growth/differentiation factor-11; Myostatin; SMAD2; Wasting.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Cachexia / chemically induced*
  • Growth Differentiation Factors / pharmacology*
  • Heart / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Myocardium / pathology*


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Gdf11 protein, mouse
  • Growth Differentiation Factors