Willis CRG, Gallagher IJ, Wilkinson DJ, Brook MS, Bass JJ, Phillips BE, Smith K, Etheridge T, Stokes T, McGlory C, Gorissen SHM, Szewczyk NJ, Phillips SM & Atherton PJ (2021) Transcriptomic links to muscle mass loss and declines in cumulative muscle protein synthesis during short-term disuse in healthy younger humans. FASEB Journal, 35 (9), Art. No.: e21830. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.202100276RR
Muscle disuse leads to a rapid decline in muscle mass, with reduced muscle protein synthesis (MPS) considered the primary physiological mechanism. Here, we employed a systems biology approach to uncover molecular networks and key molecular candidates that quantitatively link to the degree of muscle atrophy and/or extent of decline in MPS during short-term disuse in humans. After consuming a bolus dose of deuterium oxide (D2O; 3 mL.kg−1), eight healthy males (22 ± 2 years) underwent 4 days of unilateral lower-limb immobilization. Bilateral muscle biopsies were obtained post-intervention for RNA sequencing and D2O-derived measurement of MPS, with thigh lean mass quantified using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Application of weighted gene co-expression network analysis identified 15 distinct gene clusters (“modules”) with an expression profile regulated by disuse and/or quantitatively connected to disuse-induced muscle mass or MPS changes. Module scans for candidate targets established an experimentally tractable set of candidate regulatory molecules (242 hub genes, 31 transcriptional regulators) associated with disuse-induced maladaptation, many themselves potently tied to disuse-induced reductions in muscle mass and/or MPS and, therefore, strong physiologically relevant candidates. Notably, we implicate a putative role for muscle protein breakdown-related molecular networks in impairing MPS during short-term disuse, and further establish DEPTOR (a potent mTOR inhibitor) as a critical mechanistic candidate of disuse driven MPS suppression in humans. Overall, these findings offer a strong benchmark for accelerating mechanistic understanding of short-term muscle disuse atrophy that may help expedite development of therapeutic interventions.
FASEB Journal: Volume 35, Issue 9