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

Activin-βC modulates cachexia by repressing the ubiquitin-proteasome and autophagic degradation pathways

Francesco Elia Marino, Gail Risbridger, Elspeth Gold


Cancer-associated cachexia and muscle wasting are considered key determinants of cancer-related death and reduction in the quality of life of cancer patients. A crucial link has been established between activin signaling and skeletal muscle atrophy-hypertrophy.

We previously showed that activin-βC, a novel activin-A antagonist, is a tumor modulator that abolishes the cancer-associated cachexia in a mouse genetic model of gonadal tumorigenesis, in which the normal balance of inhibin/activin signalling is disrupted by a targeted mutation in the Inha gene (inhibin α-KO mouse). This study aimed to identify the molecular mechanism by which activin-βC increases survival and abolishes cancer-associated cachexia in α-KO mice. We hypothesized that overexpression of activin-βC modulates the cachexia phenotype by antagonizing the activin signaling pathway and repressing muscle wasting via the ubiquitin-proteasome and the autophagic-lysosomal degradation pathways.


Male and female ActC++, α-KO, and α-KO/ActC++ mice and WT littermate controls were studied. Western blot analysis for the specific E3 ubiquitin ligases, atrogin-1 and MuRF1, markers of the autophagic-lysosomal pathway, Beclin-1, p62, and LC3A/B, effectors Smad-2, Smad-3 and myostatin was performed in the gastrocnemius of age-matched mice. Histopathology of the gastrocnemius and survival analysis were also conducted in animals from the same breeding cohort. Serum levels of activin-A, inflammatory cytokines, hormonal profile, and bone density were also assessed.


Increased levels of atrogin-1, MuRF-1, Beclin-1, p62, LC3A/B-I, Smad-2 and serum levels of activin-A were noted in the α-KO mice. These mice developed gonadal cancers followed by severe weight loss, and reduced survival. Overexpression of activin- βC antagonized the activin signaling cascade, attenuating the ubiquitin-proteasome and the autophagic-lysosomal degradation pathways, and reduced serum levels of activin-A. α-KO/ActC++ mice displayed a less aggressive cachectic phenotype, reduced tumor weight, and prolonged survival.


Our findings show for the first time a specific effect of activin-βC on muscle wasting and transcription factors involved in muscle protein degradation. The study indicates that activin-βC may be a novel therapy to abrogate cancer-associated weight loss and prolong survival.

Marino, F. E., Risbridger, G., and Gold, E. (2015) Activin-βC modulates cachexia by repressing the ubiquitin-proteasome and autophagic degradation pathways. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, 6: 365–380. doi: 10.1002/jcsm.12031.