Doxorubicin (DOX) is a highly effective antitumor agent widely used in cancer treatment. However, it is well established that DOX induces muscular atrophy and impairs force production. Although no therapeutic interventions exist to combat DOX-induced muscle weakness, endurance exercise training has been shown to reduce skeletal muscle damage caused by DOX administration. Numerous studies have attempted to identify molecular mechanisms responsible for exercise-induced protection against DOX myotoxicity. Nevertheless, the mechanisms by which endurance exercise protects against DOX-induced muscle weakness remain elusive. In this regard, impairments to the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) are associated with muscle wasting, and studies indicate that physical exercise can rescue NMJ fragmentation. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that exercise protects against DOX-induced myopathy by preventing detrimental changes to key proteins responsible for maintenance of the NMJ.
Female Sprague–Dawley rats were assigned to sedentary or exercise-trained groups. Exercise training consisted of a 5-d treadmill habituation period followed by 10 d of running (60 min·d−1, 30 m·min−1, 0% grade). After the last training bout, exercise-trained and sedentary animals were paired with either placebo (saline) or DOX (20 mg·kg−1 i.p.) treatment. Two days after drug treatment, the soleus muscle was excised for subsequent analyses.
Our results indicate that endurance exercise training prevents soleus muscle atrophy and contractile dysfunction in DOX-treated animals. These adaptations were associated with the increased expression of the following neurotrophic factors: brain-derived neurotrophic factor, glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor, nerve growth factor, and neurotrophin-3. In addition, exercise enhanced the expression of receptor-associated protein of the synapse and the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) subunits AChRβ, AChRδ, and AChRγ in DOX-treated animals.
Therefore, upregulating neurotrophic factor and NMJ protein expression may be an effective strategy to prevent DOX-induced skeletal muscle dysfunction.