The new agent is a version of a cellular docking point for the muscle-limiting protein myostatin. In mice, just two weekly injections of the new agent triggered a 60 percent increase in muscle size, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online Dec. 5 and available publicly through the journal's website.
The researchers' original mighty mice, created by knocking out the gene that codes for myostatin, grew muscles twice as big as normal mice. An antibody against myostatin now in clinical trials caused mice to develop muscles 25 percent larger than those of untreated mice after five weeks or more of treatment.
The researchers' expectation is that blocking myostatin might help maintain critical muscle strength in people whose muscles are wasting due to diseases like muscular dystrophy or side effects from cancer treatment or AIDS.
"This new inhibitor of myostatin, known as ACVR2B, is very potent and gives very dramatic effects in the mice," says Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of molecular biology and genetics in Johns Hopkins' Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences. "Its effects were larger and faster than we've seen with any other agent, and they were even larger than we expected."
ACVR2B is the business end of a cellular docking point for the myostatin protein, and it probably works in part by mopping up myostatin so it can't exert its muscle-inhibiting influence. But the researchers' experiments also show that the new agent's extra potency stems from its ability to block more than just myostatin, says Lee.