Autophagy is required for cellular survival and for the clearance of damaged proteins and altered organelles. Excessive autophagy activation contributes to muscle loss in different catabolic conditions. However, the function of basal autophagy for homeostasis of skeletal muscle was unknown. To clarify this issue we have generated conditional and inducible knockout mice for the critical gene Atg7, to block autophagy specifically in skeletal muscle. Atg7 null muscles reveal an unexpected phenotype which is characterized by muscle atrophy, weakness and features of myofiber degeneration. Morphological, biochemical, and molecular analyses of our autophagy knockout mice show the presence of protein aggregates, abnormal mitochondria, accumulation of membrane bodies, sarcoplasmic reticulum distension, vacuolization, oxidative stress and apoptosis. Moreover, autophagy inhibition does not protect skeletal muscles from atrophy during denervation and fasting, but instead promotes greater muscle loss. In conclusion, autophagy plays a critical role for myofiber maintenance and its activation is crucial to avoid accumulation of toxic proteins and dysfunctional organelles that, in the end, would lead to atrophy and weakness.
E Masiero, L Agatea, C Mammucari, B Blaauw, E Loro, M Komatsu, D Metzger, C Reggiani, S Schiaffino, M Sandri. Autophagy is required to maintain muscle mass. Cell Metab 2009; 10: 507- 15.
PMID: 19945408 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2009.