Dihydromyricetin Attenuates Dexamethasone-Induced Muscle Atrophy by Improving Mitochondrial Function via the PGC-1α Pathway

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2018;49(2):758-779. doi: 10.1159/000493040. Epub 2018 Aug 30.


Background/aims: Skeletal muscle atrophy is an important health issue and can impose tremendous economic burdens on healthcare systems. Glucocorticoids (GCs) are well-known factors that result in muscle atrophy observed in numerous pathological conditions. Therefore, the development of effective and safe therapeutic strategies for GC-induced muscle atrophy has significant clinical implications. Some natural compounds have been shown to effectively prevent muscle atrophy under several wasting conditions. Dihydromyricetin (DM), the most abundant flavonoid in Ampelopsis grossedentata, has a broad range of health benefits, but its effects on muscle atrophy are unclear. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects and underlying mechanisms of DM on muscle atrophy induced by the synthetic GC dexamethasone (Dex).

Methods: The effects of DM on Dex-induced muscle atrophy were assessed in Sprague-Dawley rats and L6 myotubes. Muscle mass and myofiber cross-sectional areas were analyzed in gastrocnemius muscles. Muscle function was evaluated by a grip strength test. Myosin heavy chain (MHC) content and myotube diameter were measured in myotubes. Mitochondrial morphology was observed by transmission electron microscopy and confocal laser scanning microscopy. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was quantified by real-time PCR. Mitochondrial respiratory chain complex activities were examined using the MitoProfile Rapid Microplate Assay Kit, and mitochondrial membrane potential was assessed by JC-1 staining. Protein levels of mitochondrial biogenesis and dynamics markers were detected by western blotting. Myotubes were transfected with siRNAs targeting peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α), mitochondrial transcription factor A (TFAM) and mitofusin-2 (mfn2) to determine the underlying mechanisms.

Results: In vivo, DM preserved muscles from weight and average fiber cross-sectional area losses and improved grip strength. In vitro, DM prevented the decrease in MHC content and myotube diameter. Moreover, DM stimulated mitochondrial biogenesis and promoted mitochondrial fusion, rescued the reduced mtDNA content, improved mitochondrial morphology, prevented the collapse in mitochondrial membrane potential and enhanced mitochondrial respiratory chain complex activities; these changes restored mitochondrial function and improved protein metabolism, contributing to the prevention of Dex-induced muscle atrophy. Furthermore, the protective effects of DM on mitochondrial function and muscle atrophy were alleviated by PGC-1α siRNA, TFAM siRNA and mfn2 siRNA transfection in vitro.

Conclusion: DM attenuated Dex-induced muscle atrophy by reversing mitochondrial dysfunction, which was partially mediated by the PGC-1α/TFAM and PGC-1α/mfn2 signaling pathways. Our findings may open new avenues for identifying natural compounds that improve mitochondrial function as promising candidates for the management of muscle atrophy.

Keywords: Dexamethasone; Dihydromyricetin; Mitochondrial function; Muscle atrophy; PGC-1α.

MeSH terms

  • ATP Synthetase Complexes / metabolism
  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism
  • Dexamethasone / toxicity
  • Flavonols / pharmacology*
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • Male
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Membrane Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy / chemically induced
  • Muscular Atrophy / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy / pathology
  • Myoblasts / cytology
  • Myoblasts / metabolism
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha / genetics
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha / metabolism*
  • Protein Carbonylation / drug effects
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Transcription Factors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Voltage-Dependent Anion Channel 1 / metabolism


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Flavonols
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Tfam protein, rat
  • Transcription Factors
  • Dexamethasone
  • Voltage-Dependent Anion Channel 1
  • ATP Synthetase Complexes
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • Mfn2 protein, rat
  • dihydromyricetin