The muscular dystrophies (MDs) are genetic muscle diseases that result in progressive muscle degeneration followed by the fibrotic replacement of affected muscles as regenerative processes fail. Therapeutics that specifically address the fibrosis and failed regeneration associated with MDs represent a major unmet clinical need for MD patients, particularly those with advanced-stage disease progression. The current study investigated targeting NAD(P)H oxidase 4 (NOX4) as a potential strategy to reduce fibrosis and promote regeneration in disease-burdened muscle that models Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). NOX4 was elevated in the muscles of dystrophic mice and DMD patients, localizing primarily to interstitial cells located between muscle fibers. Genetic and pharmacological targeting of NOX4 significantly reduced fibrosis in dystrophic respiratory and limb muscles. Mechanistically, NOX4 targeting decreased the number of fibrosis-depositing cells (myofibroblasts) and restored the number of muscle-specific stem cells (satellite cells) localized to their physiological niche, thereby rejuvenating muscle regeneration. Furthermore, acute inhibition of NOX4 was sufficient to induce apoptotic clearing of myofibroblasts within dystrophic muscle. These data indicate that targeting NOX4 is an effective strategy to promote the beneficial remodeling of disease-burdened muscle representative of DMD and, potentially, other MDs and muscle pathologies.
David W. Hammers