Introduction: Skeletal muscle dysfunction is a clinically important complication of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Growth/differentiation factor 15 (GDF-15), a prognostic marker in PAH, has been associated with muscle loss in other conditions. We aimed to define the associations of GDF-15 and muscle wasting in PAH, to assess its utility as a biomarker of muscle loss and to investigate its downstream signalling pathway as a therapeutic target.
Methods: GDF-15 levels and measures of muscle size and strength were analysed in the monocrotaline (MCT) rat, Sugen/hypoxia mouse and in 30 patients with PAH. In C2C12 myotubes the downstream targets of GDF-15 were identified. The pathway elucidated was then antagonised in vivo.
Results: Circulating GDF-15 levels correlated with tibialis anterior (TA) muscle fibre diameter in the MCT rat (Pearson r=-0.61, p=0.003). In patients with PAH, plasma GDF-15 levels of <564 pg/L predicted those with preserved muscle strength with a sensitivity and specificity of ≥80%. In vitro GDF-15 stimulated an increase in phosphorylation of TGFβ-activated kinase 1 (TAK1). Antagonising TAK1, with 5(Z)-7-oxozeaenol, in vitro and in vivo led to an increase in fibre diameter and a reduction in mRNA expression of atrogin-1 in both C2C12 cells and in the TA of animals who continued to grow. Circulating GDF-15 levels were also reduced in those animals which responded to treatment.
Conclusions: Circulating GDF-15 is a biomarker of muscle loss in PAH that is responsive to treatment. TAK1 inhibition shows promise as a method by which muscle atrophy may be directly prevented in PAH.
Trial registration number: NCT01847716; Results.
Keywords: exercise; primary pulmonary hypertension.
© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2019. Re-use permitted under CC BY. Published by BMJ.