Micro-computed tomography for non-invasive evaluation of muscle atrophy in mouse models of disease

PLoS One. 2018 May 29;13(5):e0198089. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198089. eCollection 2018.


Muscle wasting occurs during various chronic diseases and precedes death in humans as in mice. The evaluation of the degree of muscle atrophy in diseased mouse models is often overlooked since it requires the sacrifice of the animals for muscle examination or expensive instrumentation and highly qualified personnel, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Very often behavioral tests for muscle strength evaluation are used as an outcome measurement in preclinical therapeutic trials. However, these tests are easy to perform serially, but not enough sensitive to detect early muscle changes during disease progression. Monitoring muscle loss in living animals could allow to perform more informative preclinical trials with a better evaluation of therapeutic benefit with respect to muscle wasting. We developed a non-invasive procedure based on micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) without contrast agents to monitor hind limb muscle wasting in mouse models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and cancer cachexia: the transgenic SOD1G93A mouse and the colon adenocarcinoma C26-bearing mouse, respectively. We established the scanning procedure and the parameters to consider in the reconstructed images to calculate the Index of Muscle Mass (IMM). The coefficient of variance for the whole procedure was 2.2%. We performed longitudinally micro-CT scan of hind limbs in SOD1G93A mice at presymptomatic and symptomatic stages of the disease and calculated the IMM. We found that IMM in SOD1G93A mice was lower than age-matched controls even before symptom onset. We also detected a further decrease in IMM as disease progresses, most markedly just before disease onset. We performed the same analyses in the C26-based mouse model losing quickly body and muscle mass because of cancer cachexia. Overall, we found that the reduced muscle content detected by micro-CT mirrored the reduced muscle weight in both disease models. We developed a fast, precise and easy-to-conduct imaging procedure to monitor hind limb muscle mass, useful in therapeutic preclinical trials but also in proof-of-principle studies to identify the onset of muscle wasting. This method could be widely applied to other disease models characterized by muscle wasting, to assist drug development and search for early biomarkers of muscle atrophy. Moreover, reducing the number of mice needed for the experiments and being less distressing are in line with the 3R principle embodied in national and international directives for animal research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Animals
  • Cachexia / complications
  • Cachexia / diagnostic imaging
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hindlimb / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Muscular Atrophy / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • X-Ray Microtomography*

Grants and funding

The Italian Association for Cancer Research (www.airc.it, AIRC Start-UP 11423 to RP), the Union under the Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant (PIRG08-GA-2010-277008 to RP), the European Community's Health Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 259867 (to VB and CB), the “Fondazione per la Ricerca Biomedica” (http://www.frrb.regione.lombardia.it, TRANS-ALS project to VB and CB), and the "Fondazione Cariplo" (http://www.fondazionecariplo.it, 2014-1164 to RP).