Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle (JCSM) - Abstract

Activin A induces skeletal muscle catabolism via p38β mitogen-activated protein kinases

Hui Ding, Guohua Zhang, Ka Wai Thomas Sin, Zhelong Liu, Ren-Kuo Lin, Min Li, Yi-Ping Li


Activation of type IIB activin receptor (ActRIIB) in skeletal muscle leads to muscle atrophy because of increased muscle protein degradation. However, the intracellular signalling mechanism that mediates ActRIIB-activated muscle catabolism is poorly defined.


We investigated the role of p38β mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) in mediating ActRIIB ligand activin A-activated muscle catabolic pathways in C2C12 myotubes and in mice with perturbation of this kinase pharmacologically and genetically.


Treatment of C2C12 myotubes with activin A or myostatin rapidly activated p38 MAPK and its effector C/EBPβ within 1 h. Paradoxically, Akt was activated at the same time through a p38 MAPK-independent mechanism. These events were followed by up-regulation of ubiquitin ligases atrogin1 (MAFbx) and UBR2 (E3α-II), as well as increase in LC3-II, a marker of autophagosome formation, leading to myofibrillar protein loss and myotube atrophy. The catabolic effects of activin A were abolished by p38α/β MAPK inhibitor SB202190. Using small interfering RNA-mediated gene knockdown, we found that the catabolic activity of activin A was dependent on p38β MAPK specifically. Importantly, systemic administration of activin A to mice similarly activated the catabolic pathways in vivo, and this effect was blocked by SB202190. Further, activin A failed to activate the catabolic pathways in mice with muscle-specific knockout of p38β MAPK. Interestingly, activin A up-regulated MuRF1 in a p38 MAPK-independent manner, and MuRF1 did not appear responsible for activin A-induced myosin heavy chain loss and muscle atrophy.


ActRIIB-mediated activation of muscle catabolism is dependent on p38β MAPK-activated signalling.


Ding, H., Zhang, G., Sin, K. W. T., Liu, Z., Lin, R. -K., Li, M., and Li, Y. -P. (2016) Activin A induces skeletal muscle catabolism via p38β mitogen-activated protein kinases. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, 8: 202212. doi: 10.1002/jcsm.12145.