Selective release of muscle-specific, extracellular microRNAs during myogenic differentiation

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MyomiRs are muscle-specific microRNAs (miRNAs) that regulate myoblast proliferation and differentiation. Extracellular myomiRs (ex-myomiRs) are highly enriched in the serum of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) patients and dystrophic mouse models and consequently have potential as disease biomarkers. The biological significance of miRNAs present in the extracellular space is not currently well understood. Here we demonstrate that ex-myomiR levels are elevated in perinatal muscle development, during the regenerative phase that follows exercise-induced myoinjury, and concomitant with myoblast differentiation in culture. Whereas ex-myomiRs are progressively and specifically released by differentiating human primary myoblasts and C2C12 cultures, chemical induction of apoptosis in C2C12 cells results in indiscriminate miRNA release. The selective release of myomiRs as a consequence of cellular differentiation argues against the idea that they are solely waste products of muscle breakdown, and suggests they may serve a biological function in specific physiological contexts. Ex-myomiRs in culture supernatant and serum are predominantly non-vesicular, and their release is independent of ceramide-mediated vesicle secretion. Furthermore, ex-myomiRs levels are reduced in aged dystrophic mice, likely as a consequence of chronic muscle wasting. In conclusion, we show that myomiR release accompanies periods of myogenic differentiation in cell culture and in vivo. Serum myomiR abundance is therefore a function of the regenerative/degenerative status of the muscle, overall muscle mass, and tissue expression levels. These findings have implications for the use of ex-myomiRs as biomarkers for DMD disease progression and monitoring response to therapy.

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