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'Mighty mouse' gene works the same way in people

By studying the genes of a German child born with unusually well developed muscles, an international research team has discovered the first evidence that the gene whose loss makes "mighty mice" also controls muscle growth in people.

Writing in the June 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, German neurologist Markus Schuelke, M.D., and the team show that the child's extra-large muscles are due to an inherited mutation that effectively silences the myostatin gene, proving that its protein normally keeps muscle development in check in people.

People with muscle-wasting conditions such as muscular dystrophy, and others just wanting to "bulk up," have eagerly followed work on myostatin, hoping for a way to counteract the protein's effects in order to build or rebuild muscle mass. But while research with mice has continued to reveal myostatin's role and the effects of interfering with it, no one knew whether any of the results would be relevant to humans.

"This is the first evidence that myostatin regulates muscle mass in people as it does in other animals," says Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and genetics in the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at Johns Hopkins and co-author on the study. "That gives us a great deal of hope that agents already known to block myostatin activity in mice may be able to increase muscle mass in humans, too."

Lee and his team discovered in 1997 that knocking out the myostatin gene led to mice that were twice as muscular as their normal siblings, lending them the moniker "mighty mice." Later, others showed that naturally bulky cattle, such as Belgian Blues, got their extra muscles from lack of myostatin, too.

An unusual opportunity to examine myostatin's role in humans arose when Schuelke examined a newborn baby boy, almost five years ago, and was struck by the visible muscles on the infant's upper legs and upper arms. When ultrasound proved that the mu
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Contact: Joanna Downer
jdowner1@jhmi.edu
410-614-5105
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
23-Jun-2004


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