MAPK signaling consists of an array of successively acting kinases. ERK1 and -2 (ERK1/2) are major components of the greater MAPK cascade that transduce growth factor signaling at the cell membrane. Here, we investigated ERK1/2 signaling in skeletal muscle homeostasis and disease. Using mouse genetics, we observed that the muscle-specific expression of a constitutively active MEK1 mutant promotes greater ERK1/2 signaling that mediates fiber-type switching to a slow, oxidative phenotype with type I myosin heavy chain expression. Using a conditional and temporally regulated Cre strategy, as well as Mapk1 (ERK2) and Mapk3 (ERK1) genetically targeted mice, MEK1-ERK2 signaling was shown to underlie this fast-to-slow fiber-type switching in adult skeletal muscle as well as during development. Physiologic assessment of these activated MEK1-ERK1/2 mice showed enhanced metabolic activity and oxygen consumption with greater muscle fatigue resistance. In addition, induction of MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling increased dystrophin and utrophin protein expression in a mouse model of limb-girdle muscle dystrophy and protected myofibers from damage. In summary, sustained MEK1-ERK1/2 activity in skeletal muscle produces a fast-to-slow fiber-type switch that protects from muscular dystrophy, suggesting a therapeutic approach to enhance the metabolic effectiveness of muscle and protect from dystrophic disease.
Justin G. Boyer, Vikram Prasad, Taejeong Song, Donghoon Lee, Xing Fu, Kelly M. Grimes, Michelle A. Sargent, Sakthivel Sadayappan, Jeffery D. Molkentin