Cancer cachexia is regulated by selective targeting of skeletal muscle gene products

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Cachexia is a syndrome characterized by wasting of skeletal muscle and contributes to nearly one-third of all cancer deaths. Cytokines and tumor factors mediate wasting by suppressing muscle gene products, but exactly which products are targeted by these cachectic factors is not well understood. Because of their functional relevance to muscle architecture, such targets are presumed to represent myofibrillar proteins, but whether these proteins are regulated in a general or a selective manner is also unclear. Here we demonstrate, using in vitro and in vivo models of muscle wasting, that cachectic factors are remarkably selective in targeting myosin heavy chain. In myotubes and mouse muscles, TNF-α plus IFN-γ strongly reduced myosin expression through an RNA-dependent mechanism. Likewise, colon-26 tumors in mice caused the selective reduction of this myofibrillar protein, and this reduction correlated with wasting. Under these conditions, however, loss of myosin was associated with the ubiquitin-dependent proteasome pathway, which suggests that mechanisms used to regulate the expression of muscle proteins may be cachectic factor specific. These results shed new light on cancer cachexia by revealing that wasting does not result from a general downregulation of muscle proteins but rather is highly selective as to which proteins are targeted during the wasting state.

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