Mechanism of protein catobolism in skeletal muscle during cancer cachexia

  • Jwan Khal

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Cancer cachexia is characterised by selective depletion of skeletal muscle protein reserves. The ubiquitin-proteasome proteolytic pathway has been shown to be responsible for muscle wasting in a range of cachectic conditions including cancer cachexia. To establish the importance of this pathway in muscle wasting during cancer (and sepsis), a quantitative competitive RT-PCR (QcRT-PCR) method was developed to measure the mRNA levels of the proteasome sub units C2a and C5ß and the ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme E214k. Western blotting was also used to measure the 20S proteasome and E214k protein expression. In vivo studies in mice bearing a cachexia inducing murine colon adenocarcinoma (MAC16) demonstrated the effect of progressive weight loss on the mRNA and protein expression for 20S proteasome subunits, as well as the ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme, E214k, in gastrocnemius and pectoral muscles. QcRT-PCR measurements showed a good correlation between expression of the proteasome subunits (C2 and CS) and the E214k enzyme mRNA and weight loss in gastrocnemius muscle, where expression increased with increasing weight loss followed by a decrease in expression at higher weight losses (25-27%).
Similar results were obtained in pectoral muscles, but with the expression being several fold lower in comparison to that in gastrocnemius muscle, reflecting the different degrees of protein degradation in the two muscles during the process of cancer cachexia. Western blot analysis of 20S and E214k protein expression followed a similar pattern with respect to weight loss as that found with mRNA. In addition, mRNA and protein expression of the 20S proteasome subunits and E214k enzyme was measured in biopsies from cachectic cancer patients, which also showed a good correlation between weight loss and proteasome expression, demonstrating a progressive increase in expression of the proteasome subunits and E214k mRNA and protein in cachectic patients with progressively increasing weight loss.The effect of the cachexia-inducing tumour product PIF (proteolysis inducing factor) and 15-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (15-HETE), the arachidoinic acid metabolite (thought to be the intracellular transducer of PIF action) has also been determined. Using a surrogate model system for skeletal muscle, C2C12 myotubes in vitro, it was shown that both PIF and 15-HETE increased proteasome subunit expression (C2a and C5ß) as well as the E214k enzyme. This increase gene expression was attenuated by preincubation with EPA or the 15-lipoxygenase inhibitor CV-6504; immunoblotting also confirmed these findings. Similarly, in sepsis-induced cachexia in NMRI mice there was increased mRNA and protein expression of the 20S proteasome subunits and the E214k enzyme, which was inhibited by EPA treatment. These results suggest that 15-HETE is the intracellular mediator for PIF induced protein degradation in skeletal muscle, and that elevated muscle catabolism is accomplished through upregulation of the ubiquitin-proteasome-proteolytic pathway. Furthermore, both EPA and CV -6504 have shown anti-cachectic properties, which could be used in the future for the treatment of cancer cachexia and other similar catabolic conditions.

Date of Award2002
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMichael J Tisdale (Supervisor) & Anna V. Hine (Supervisor)


  • protein catobolism
  • skeletal muscle
  • cancer cachexia
  • ubiquitin-proteasome pathway
  • EPA
  • QcRT-PCR
  • 15-HETE
  • PIF

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