Comparative profiling of skeletal muscle models reveals heterogeneity of transcriptome and metabolism

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2020 Mar 1;318(3):C615-C626. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00540.2019. Epub 2019 Dec 11.


Rat L6, mouse C2C12, and primary human skeletal muscle cells (HSMCs) are commonly used to study biological processes in skeletal muscle, and experimental data on these models are abundant. However, consistently matched experimental data are scarce, and comparisons between the different cell types and adult tissue are problematic. We hypothesized that metabolic differences between these cellular models may be reflected at the mRNA level. Publicly available data sets were used to profile mRNA levels in myotubes and skeletal muscle tissues. L6, C2C12, and HSMC myotubes were assessed for proliferation, glucose uptake, glycogen synthesis, mitochondrial activity, and substrate oxidation, as well as the response to in vitro contraction. Transcriptomic profiling revealed that mRNA of genes coding for actin and myosin was enriched in C2C12, whereas L6 myotubes had the highest levels of genes encoding glucose transporters and the five complexes of the mitochondrial electron transport chain. Consistently, insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and oxidative capacity were greatest in L6 myotubes. Insulin-induced glycogen synthesis was highest in HSMCs, but C2C12 myotubes had higher baseline glucose oxidation. All models responded to electrical pulse stimulation-induced glucose uptake and gene expression but in a slightly different manner. Our analysis reveals a great degree of heterogeneity in the transcriptomic and metabolic profiles of L6, C2C12, or primary human myotubes. Based on these distinct signatures, we provide recommendations for the appropriate use of these models depending on scientific hypotheses and biological relevance.

Keywords: C2C12; metabolism; skeletal muscle; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Cells / physiology*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / cytology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Species Specificity
  • Transcriptome / physiology*