Skeletal muscle weakness is a hallmark of aging and cancer cachexia that significantly affect individual healthspans and quality of life. Despite the clinical significance, no pharmacological therapies are currently available to mitigate muscle atrophy and weakness. The goal of this project is to test the ability of a novel and promising pharmacological intervention, unacylated ghrelin, to delay skeletal muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass in aging and in cancer cachexia. Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite when the acylated ghrelin (AG) binds to its receptor in the brain, growth hormone secretagogue receptor-1a (GHSR1a). An acute rise in AG increases lean mass in wasting conditions, but a concurrent increase in adiposity and decreased sensitivity in GHSR1a receptor lead to atrophy and contractile dysfunction. In contrast, recent studies show a direct beneficial effect of the unacylated form of ghrelin (UnAG) on muscle, independent of GHSR1a activation. Incubating myoblast with UnAG increases differentiation and fusion into myotubes, and inhibited glucocorticoid-induced muscle atrophy and proteolytic markers. During a 2-day fasting and 14-day denervation, a chronic increase in circulating UnAG using a genetic modification prevented skeletal muscle atrophy independent of activation of the growth hormone/IGF-1 axis via GHSR1a. The goal of this proposal is to test the ability of UnAG to mitigate loss of muscle mass and weakness in two distinct degenerative conditions-sarcopenia and cancer cachexia. The following aims are proposed:
Aim 1 : To determine whether UnAG prevents neurogenic atrophy with aging by altering rates of protein synthesis and degradation in muscle.
Aim 2 : To determine whether UnAG prevents contractile dysfunction with aging through modulations of calcium handling and sensitivity.
Aim 3 : To determine whether UnAG prevents a rapid wasting and contractile dysfunction in cancer cachexia. In order to understand the molecular mechanisms of UnAG on skeletal muscle cells, I will learn and perform state-of-the- art molecular biology and integrative physiology techniques to assess in vivo protein turnover rate and calcium handling and sensitivity of myofilaments (intracellular calcium transient and uptake). If my results support the hypothesis, clinical trials may be warranted. UnAG and its synthetic peptides have excellent safety profiles in humans and animals with null association to cancer cell growth. The principal investigator (PI) of this grant is a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Van Remmen at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The PI will learn state-of-the-art molecular biology and integrative physiology techniques from his co-mentors Drs. Benjamin Miller and Susan Brooks, respectively. These techniques will be critical in the PI?s independent laboratory and boost his scientific career. The PI?s primary mentor, Dr. Holly Van Remmen, will train him the expertise in redox biology and share her experience and success in aging research. Dr. Van Remmen will monitor overall progress of the project and the PI?s career development during the mentored phase and ensure his secure transition toward independence.

Public Health Relevance

Millions of individuals suffer from skeletal muscle atrophy and contractile dysfunction (i.e. muscle weakness), a hallmark of several physiological and pathological conditions, including sarcopenia and cancer cachexia. Despite the significance of myopathy on quality of life and healthspan, no pharmacological therapies are currently available to mitigate the loss of muscle mass and function. The experiments in this proposal will test the impact of unacylated ghrelin on skeletal muscle weakness in aging and cancer cachexia with a high chance of translation based on its excellent safety profiles in humans and no effects on cancer cell growth.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Career Transition Award (K99)
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Behavior and Social Science of Aging Review Committee (NIA)
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Williams, John
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Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation
Oklahoma City
United States
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