A team of scientists led by McPherron and Lee at John Hopkins University was investigating agroup of proteins that regulate cell growth and differentiation. During their investigations they discovered the gene that may be responsible for the phenomenon of increased muscle mass, also called ‘double-muscling’ (1, 2). Myostatin, the protein that the gene encodes, is a member of a superfamily of related molecules called transforming growth factors beta (TGF-b ). It is also referred to asgrowth and differentiation factor-8 (GDF-8). By knocking out the gene for myostatin in mice, they were able to show that the transgenic mice developed two to three times more muscle than mice that contained the same gene intact. Lee commented that the myostatin gene knockout mice "look like Schwarzenegger mice." (3).
Further exploration of genes present in skeletal muscle in the two breeds ofdouble-muscled cattle revealed mutations in the gene that codes for myostatin. The double-muscling trait of the myostatin gene knockout mice and the double-muscled cattle demonstrates that myostatin performs the same biological function in these two species. Apparently, myostatin may inhibit the growth of skeletal muscle. Knocking out the gene in transgenic mice or mutations in the gene such as inthe double-muscled cattle result in larger muscle mass. This discovery has paved the way for a plethora of futuristic implications from breeding super-muscled livestock to treatment of human muscle wasting diseases.
Researchers are developing methods to interfere with expression and function of myostatin and its gene to produce commercial livestock that have more muscle mass and less fatcontent. Myostatin inhibitors may be developed to treat muscle wasting in human disorders such as muscular dystrophy. However, several public media sources immediately raised the issue of abusing myostatin inhibitors by athletes. In addition, a hypothesis has been put forth that a genetic propensity for high levels of myostatin is responsible for the lack of muscle gain in weight trainees.Accordingly, this article presents a look at the science of myostatin and its implications for the athletic arena.
WHAT IS MYOSTATIN?
Before we can understand the implications of tampering with myostatin and its gene, we must learn what myostatin is and what it does. Higher organisms are comprised of many different types of cells whose growth, development and function must becoordinated for the function of individual tissues and the entire organism. This is attainable by specific intercellular signals, which control tissue growth, development and function. These molecular signals elicit a cascade of events in the target cells, referred to as cell signaling, leading to an ultimate response in or by the cell.
Classical hormones are long-range signaling molecules(called endocrine). These substances are produced and secreted by cells or tissues and circulated through the blood supply and other bodily fluids to influence the activity of cells or tissues elsewhere in the body. However, growth factors are typically synthesized by cells and affect cellular function of the same cell (autocrine) or another cell nearby (paracrine). These molecules are the...