Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is a leading cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality in humans and domestic animals. Developmental adaptations of skeletal muscle in IUGR lead to increased risk of premature muscle loss and metabolic disease in later life. Here, we identified β-Klotho (KLB), a fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) co-receptor, as a novel regulator of muscle development in IUGR. Using the pig as a naturally-occurring disease model, we performed transcriptome-wide profiling of fetal muscle (day 90 of pregnancy) from IUGR and normal-weight (NW) littermates. We found that, alongside large-scale transcriptional changes comprising multiple developmental, tissue injury and metabolic gene pathways, KLB was increased in IUGR muscle. Moreover, FGF21 concentrations were increased in plasma in IUGR fetuses. Using cultures of fetal muscle progenitor cells (MPCs), we showed reduced myogenic capacity of IUGR compared to NW muscle in vitro, as evidenced by differences in fusion indices and myogenic transcript levels, as well as mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) activity. Moreover, transfection of MPCs with KLB small interfering RNA promoted myogenesis and mTOR activation, whereas treatment with FGF21 had opposite and dose-dependent effects in porcine and also in human fetal MPCs. In conclusion, our results identify KLB as a novel and potentially critical mediator of impaired muscle development in IUGR, through conserved mechanisms in pigs and humans. Our data shed new light onto the pathogenesis of IUGR, a significant cause of lifelong ill-health in humans and animals. KEY POINTS: Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is associated with large-scale transcriptional changes in developmental, tissue injury and metabolic gene pathways in fetal skeletal muscle. Levels of the fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) co-receptor, β-Klotho (KLB) are increased in IUGR fetal muscle, and FGF21 concentrations are increased in IUGR fetal plasma. KLB mediates a reduction in muscle development through inhibition of mechanistic target of rapamycin signalling. These effects of KLB on muscle cells are conserved in pig and human, suggesting a vital role of this protein in the regulation of muscle development and function in mammals.
Keywords: FGF21; IUGR; KLB; fetal; skeletal muscle; transcriptome.
© 2022 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Physiological Society.