It is well known that the ubiquitin-proteasome system is activated in response to skeletal muscle wasting and functions to degrade contractile proteins. The loss of these proteins inevitably reduces skeletal muscle size (i.e., quantity). However, it is currently unknown whether activation of this pathway also affects function by impairing the muscle's intrinsic ability to produce force (i.e., quality). Therefore, the purpose of this study was twofold, (1) document how the ubiquitin-proteasome system responds to denervation and (2) identify the physiological consequences of these changes. To induce soleus muscle atrophy, C57BL6 mice underwent tibial nerve transection of the left hindlimb for 7 or 14 days (n = 6-8 per group). At these time points, content of several proteins within the ubiquitin-proteasome system were determined via Western blot, while ex vivo whole muscle contractility was specifically analyzed at day 14. Denervation temporarily increased several key proteins within the ubiquitin-proteasome system, including the E3 ligase MuRF1 and the proteasome subunits 19S, α7 and β5. These changes were accompanied by reductions in absolute peak force and power, which were offset when expressed relative to physiological cross-sectional area. Contrary to peak force, absolute and relative forces at submaximal stimulation frequencies were significantly greater following 14 days of denervation. Taken together, these data represent two keys findings. First, activation of the ubiquitin-proteasome system is associated with reductions in skeletal muscle quantity rather than quality. Second, shortly after denervation, it appears the muscle remodels to compensate for the loss of neural activity via changes in Ca2+ handling.
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© 2016 Baumann et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.