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In cancer, elevated activin levels promote cachectic wasting of muscle, irrespective of tumor progression. In excess, activins A and B use the myostatin signaling pathway in muscle, triggering a decrease in protein synthesis and an increase in protein degradation, which ultimately leads to atrophy. Recently, we demonstrated that local delivery of engineered activin and myostatin propeptides (natural inhibitors of these growth factors) could induce profound muscle hypertrophy in healthy mice. Additionally, the expression of these propeptides effectively attenuated localized muscle wasting in models of dystrophy and cancer cachexia. In this study, we examined whether a systemically administered recombinant propeptide could reverse activin A-induced cachectic wasting in mice. Chinese hamster ovary cells stably expressing activin A were transplanted into the quadriceps of nude mice and caused an 85-fold increase in circulating activin A levels within 12 days. Elevated activin A induced a rapid reduction in body mass (-16%) and lean mass (-10%). In agreement with previous findings, we demonstrated that adeno-associated virus-mediated delivery of activin propeptide to the tibialis anterior muscle blocked activin-induced wasting. In addition, despite massively elevated levels of activin A in this model, systemic delivery of the propeptide significantly reduced activin-induced changes in lean and body mass. Specifically, recombinant propeptide reversed activin-induced wasting of skeletal muscle, heart, liver, and kidneys. This is the first study to demonstrate that systemic administration of recombinant propeptide therapy effectively attenuates tumor-derived activin A insult in multiple tissues.
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