Statins inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, a key enzyme in cholesterol synthesis, and are widely used to treat hypercholesterolemia. These drugs can lead to a number of side effects in muscle, including muscle fiber breakdown; however, the mechanisms of muscle injury by statins are poorly understood. We report that lovastatin induced the expression of atrogin-1, a key gene involved in skeletal muscle atrophy, in humans with statin myopathy, in zebrafish embryos, and in vitro in murine skeletal muscle cells. In cultured mouse myotubes, atrogin-1 induction following lovastatin treatment was accompanied by distinct morphological changes, largely absent in atrogin-1 null cells. In zebrafish embryos, lovastatin promoted muscle fiber damage, an effect that was closely mimicked by knockdown of zebrafish HMG-CoA reductase. Moreover, atrogin-1 knockdown in zebrafish embryos prevented lovastatin-induced muscle injury. Finally, overexpression of PGC-1α, a transcriptional coactivator that induces mitochondrial biogenesis and protects against the development of muscle atrophy, dramatically prevented lovastatin-induced muscle damage and abrogated atrogin-1 induction both in fish and in cultured mouse myotubes. Collectively, our human, animal, and in vitro findings shed light on the molecular mechanism of statin-induced myopathy and suggest that atrogin-1 may be a critical mediator of the muscle damage induced by statins.
Jun-ichi Hanai, Peirang Cao, Preeti Tanksale, Shintaro Imamura, Eriko Koshimizu, Jinghui Zhao, Shuji Kishi, Michiaki Yamashita, Paul S. Phillips, Vikas P. Sukhatme, Stewart H. Lecker