Scientists Identify Protein that Regulates Muscle Growth

Research Holds Clues to Weight Loss, Disease Complications

May 24, 2002

Researchers have discovered that excessive amounts of a protein called myostatin in adult animals causes a rapid loss of fat and muscle, even when food consumption is normal. The findings shed light on several conditions in which humans experience a tragic "wasting away," whether due to a disease like muscular dystrophy or to complications from cancer or AIDS.

An article in today’s edition of Science on myostatin includes the research of Teresa A. Zimmers, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Surgery. Zimmers, who earned her doctorate in molecular biology and genetics from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where she began researching the role of myostatin in the regulation of muscle and fat, is continuing those scientific studies in Rochester.

Zimmers’ interest lies in cachexia, a condition associated with not only cancer and AIDS but also organ failure, infection and Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with cachexia lose weight dramatically - sometimes 10 percent of their body weight in less than six months - despite adequate nutritional intake. It is estimated that cachexia causes the death of one-third of all cancer patients. Yet the biological process responsible for cachexia is not fully understood.

The latest study in Science shows that when adult mice were implanted with cells expressing extra myostatin, they lost weight without a change in appetite. But when mice were implanted with cells to counteract the myostatin, their weight loss was slowed. Previously, the Johns Hopkins team had shown that mice without a working myostatin gene developed more muscle, making them so-called "mighty mice."

The significance, according the Zimmers, is that researchers should now be able to target myostatin to design potential new treatments for muscle-wasting diseases and conditions.

For Media Inquiries:
Leslie Orr
(585) 275-5774
Email Leslie Orr