Acute daily psychological stress causes increased atrophic gene expression and myostatin-dependent muscle atrophy

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American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology


Exercise Science


Psychological stress is known to attenuate body size and lean body mass. We tested the effects of 1, 3, or 7 days of two different models of psychological stress, 1 h of daily restraint stress (RS) or daily cage-switching stress (CS), on skeletal muscle size and atrophy-associated gene expression in mice. Thymus weights decreased in both RS and CS mice compared with unstressed controls, suggesting that both models activated the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Body mass was significantly decreased at all time points for both models of stress but was greater for RS than CS. Mass of the tibialis anterior (TA) and soleus (SOL) muscles was significantly decreased after 3 and 7 days of RS, but CS only significantly decreased SOL mass after 7 days. TA mRNA levels of the atrophy-associated genes myostatin (MSTN), atrogin-1, and the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase inhibitory subunit p85? were all significantly increased relative to unstressed mice after 1 and 3 days of RS, and expression of MSTN and p85? mRNA remained elevated after 7 days of RS. Expression of muscle ring finger 1 was increased after 1 day of RS but returned to baseline at 3 and 7 days of RS. MSTN, atrogin-1, and p85? mRNA levels also significantly increased after 1 and 3 days of CS but atrogen-1 mRNA levels had resolved back to normal levels by 3 days and p85? with 7 days of CS. p21CIP mRNA levels were significantly decreased by 3 days of CS or RS. Finally, body mass was minimally affected, and muscle mass was completely unaffected by 3 days of RS in mice null for the MSTN gene, and MSTN inactivation attenuated the increase in atrogin-1 mRNA levels with 4 days of RS compared with wild-type mice. Together these data suggest that acute daily psychological stress induces atrophic gene expression and loss of muscle mass that appears to be MSTN dependent.