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The desmin mutation R349P increases contractility and fragility of stem cell-generated muscle micro-tissues

Desminopathies comprise hereditary myopathies and cardiomyopathies caused by mutations in the intermediate filament protein desmin that lead to severe and often lethal degeneration of striated muscle tissue. Animal and single cell studies hinted that this degeneration process is associated with massive ultrastructural defects correlating with increased susceptibility of the muscle to acute mechanical stress. The underlying mechanism of mechanical susceptibility, and how muscle degeneration develops over time, however, has remained elusive. Here, we investigated the effect of a desmin mutation on the formation, differentiation, and contractile function of in vitro-engineered three-dimensional micro-tissues grown from muscle stem cells (satellite cells) isolated from heterozygous R349P desmin knock-in mice. Micro-tissues grown from desmin-mutated cells exhibited spontaneous unsynchronised contractions, higher contractile forces in response to electrical stimulation, and faster force recovery compared with tissues grown from wild-type cells. Within 1 week of culture, the majority of R349P desmin-mutated tissues disintegrated, whereas wild-type tissues remained intact over at least three weeks. Moreover, under tetanic stimulation lasting less than 5 s, desmin-mutated tissues partially or completely ruptured, whereas wild-type tissues did not display signs of damage. Our results demonstrate that the progressive degeneration of desmin-mutated micro-tissues is closely linked to extracellular matrix fibre breakage associated with increased contractile forces and unevenly distributed tensile stress. This suggests that the age-related degeneration of skeletal and cardiac muscle in patients suffering from desminopathies may be similarly exacerbated by mechanical damage from high-intensity muscle contractions. We conclude that micro-tissues may provide a valuable tool for studying the organization of myocytes and the pathogenic mechanisms of myopathies.

Read the full publication in Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology.