Suppression of skeletal muscle turnover in cancer cachexia: evidence from the transcriptome in sequential human muscle biopsies

I.J. Gallagher, N.A. Stephens, A.J. MacDonald, R.J.E. Skipworth, H. Husi, C.A. Greig, J.A. Ross, J.A. Timmons, K.C.H. Fearon

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Purpose: The mechanisms underlying muscle wasting in patients with cancer remain poorly understood, and consequently there remains an unmet clinical need for new biomarkers and treatment strategies.

Experimental Design: Microarrays were used to examine the transcriptome in single biopsies from healthy controls (n = 6) and in paired biopsies [pre-resection baseline (weight-loss 7 and 8 month post-resection follow-up (disease-free/weight-stable for previous 2 months)] from quadriceps muscle of patients with upper gastrointestinal cancer (UGIC; n = 12).

Results: Before surgery, 1,868 genes were regulated compared with follow-up (false discovery rate, 6. Ontology analysis showed that regulated genes belonged to both anabolic and catabolic biologic processes with overwhelming downregulation in baseline samples. No literature-derived genes from preclinical cancer cachexia models showed higher expression in baseline muscle. Comparison with healthy control muscle (n = 6) revealed that despite differences in the transcriptome at baseline (941 genes regulated), the muscle of patients at follow-up was similar to control muscle (2 genes regulated). Physical activity (step count per day) did not differ between the baseline and follow-up periods (P = 0.9), indicating that gene expression differences reflected the removal of the cancer rather than altered physical activity levels. Comparative gene expression analysis using exercise training signatures supported this interpretation.

Conclusions: Metabolic and protein turnover?related pathways are suppressed in weight-losing patients with UGIC whereas removal of the cancer appears to facilitate a return to a healthy state, independent of changes in the level of physical activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2817-2827
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2012


Cite this

Gallagher, I. J., Stephens, N. A., MacDonald, A. J., Skipworth, R. J. E., Husi, H., Greig, C. A., ... Fearon, K. C. H. (2012). Suppression of skeletal muscle turnover in cancer cachexia: evidence from the transcriptome in sequential human muscle biopsies. Clinical Cancer Research, 18(10), 2817-2827.