Protein kinase A activation inhibits DUX4 gene expression in myotubes from patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy

J Biol Chem. 2018 Jul 27;293(30):11837-11849. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.002633. Epub 2018 Jun 13.


Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) is among the most prevalent of the adult-onset muscular dystrophies. FSHD causes a loss of muscle mass and function, resulting in severe debilitation and reduction in quality of life. Currently, only the symptoms of FSHD can be treated, and such treatments have minimal benefit. The available options are not curative, and none of the treatments address the underlying cause of FSHD. The genetic, epigenetic, and molecular mechanisms triggering FSHD are now quite well-understood, and it has been shown that expression of the transcriptional regulator double homeobox 4 (DUX4) is necessary for disease onset and is largely thought to be the causative factor in FSHD. Therefore, we sought to identify compounds suppressing DUX4 expression in a phenotypic screen using FSHD patient-derived muscle cells, a zinc finger and SCAN domain-containing 4 (ZSCAN4)-based reporter gene assay for measuring DUX4 activity, and ∼3,000 small molecules. This effort identified molecules that reduce DUX4 gene expression and hence DUX4 activity. Among those, β2-adrenergic receptor agonists and phosphodiesterase inhibitors, both leading to increased cellular cAMP, effectively decreased DUX4 expression by >75% in cells from individuals with FSHD. Of note, we found that cAMP production reduces DUX4 expression through a protein kinase A-dependent mode of action in FSHD patient myotubes. These findings increase our understanding of how DUX4 expression is regulated in FSHD and point to potential areas of therapeutic intervention.

Keywords: D4Z4; DUX4; FSHD; adrenergic receptor; cyclic AMP (cAMP); drug discovery; facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy; muscle atrophy; muscular dystrophy; protein kinase A (PKA).

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Down-Regulation* / drug effects
  • Drug Discovery
  • Enzyme Activation* / drug effects
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral / drug therapy
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral / genetics*
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Facioscapulohumeral / metabolism


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • DUX4L1 protein, human
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases