In vitro assessment of anti-fibrotic drug activity does not predict in vivo efficacy in murine models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Life Sci. 2021 Aug 15:279:119482. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2021.119482. Epub 2021 Apr 20.


Aim: Fibrosis is the most common complication from chronic diseases, and yet no therapy capable of mitigating its effects is available. Our goal is to unveil specific signaling regulating the fibrogenic process and to identify potential small molecule candidates that block fibrogenic differentiation of fibro/adipogenic progenitors.

Method: We performed a large-scale drug screen using muscle-resident fibro/adipogenic progenitors from a mouse model expressing EGFP under the Collagen1a1 promotor. We first confirmed that the EGFP was expressed in response to TGFβ1 stimulation in vitro. Then we treated cells with TGFβ1 alone or with drugs from two libraries of known compounds. The drugs ability to block the fibrogenic differentiation was quantified by imaging and flow cytometry. From a two-rounds screening, positive hits were tested in vivo in the mice model for the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (mdx mice). The histopathology of the muscles was assessed with picrosirius red (fibrosis) and laminin staining (myofiber size).

Key findings: From the in vitro drug screening, we identified 21 drugs and tested 3 in vivo on the mdx mice. None of the three drugs significantly improved muscle histopathology.

Significance: The in vitro drug screen identified various efficient compounds, none of them strongly inhibited fibrosis in skeletal muscle of mdx mice. To explain these observations, we hypothesize that in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, in which fibrosis is a secondary event due to chronic degeneration and inflammation, the drugs tested could have adverse effect on regeneration or inflammation, balancing off any positive effects and leading to the absence of significant results.

Keywords: Drug screening; Fibro/adipogenic progenitors; Fibrosis; Repair; Skeletal muscle.

MeSH terms

  • Adipogenesis*
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Female
  • Fibrosis / drug therapy
  • Fibrosis / etiology
  • Fibrosis / pathology*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, Inbred mdx
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne / physiopathology*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / administration & dosage*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1