Serum extracellular vesicle miR-203a-3p content is associated with skeletal muscle mass and protein turnover during disuse atrophy and regrowth

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2020 Aug 1;319(2):C419-C431. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00223.2020. Epub 2020 Jul 8.


Small noncoding microRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators of skeletal muscle size, and circulating miRNAs within extracellular vesicles (EVs) may contribute to atrophy and its associated systemic effects. The purpose of this study was to understand how muscle atrophy and regrowth alter in vivo serum EV miRNA content. We also associated changes in serum EV miRNA with protein synthesis, protein degradation, and miRNA within muscle, kidney, and liver. We subjected adult (10 mo) F344/BN rats to three conditions: weight bearing (WB), hindlimb suspension (HS) for 7 days to induce muscle atrophy, and HS for 7 days followed by 7 days of reloading (HSR). Microarray analysis of EV miRNA content showed that the overall changes in serum EV miRNA were predicted to target major anabolic, catabolic, and mechanosensitive pathways. MiR-203a-3p was the only miRNA demonstrating substantial differences in HS EVs compared with WB. There was a limited association of EV miRNA content to the corresponding miRNA content within the muscle, kidney, or liver. Stepwise linear regression demonstrated that EV miR-203a-3p was correlated with muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis and degradation across all conditions. Finally, EV miR-203a-3p expression was significantly decreased in human subjects who underwent unilateral lower limb suspension (ULLS) to induce muscle atrophy. Altogether, we show that serum EV miR-203a-3p expression is related to skeletal muscle protein turnover and atrophy. We suggest that serum EV miR-203a-3p content may be a useful biomarker and future work should investigate whether serum EV miR-203a-3p content is mechanistically linked to protein synthesis and degradation.

Keywords: atrophy; extracellular vesicles; miRNA; protein synthesis; skeletal muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Extracellular Vesicles / genetics
  • Hindlimb Suspension
  • Humans
  • Kidney / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscular Atrophy / genetics*
  • Muscular Atrophy / metabolism
  • Muscular Atrophy / pathology
  • Muscular Disorders, Atrophic / genetics*
  • Muscular Disorders, Atrophic / metabolism
  • Muscular Disorders, Atrophic / pathology
  • Rats


  • Biomarkers
  • MIRN203 microRNA, rat
  • MicroRNAs
  • Muscle Proteins