Effect of long-term testosterone therapy on molecular regulators of skeletal muscle mass and fibre-type distribution in aging men with subnormal testosterone

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Rikke Kruse
  • Stine Juhl Petersson
  • Louise L Christensen
  • Kristensen, Jonas Møller
  • Rugivan Sabaratnam
  • Niels Ørtenblad
  • Marianne Andersen
  • Kurt Højlund

Background: Long-term testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) increases muscle mass in elderly men with subnormal testosterone levels. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this effect of TRT on protein balance in human skeletal muscle in vivo remain to be established. 

Methods: Here, we examined skeletal muscle biopsies obtained before and 24-h after the last dose of treatment with either testosterone gel (n = 12) or placebo (n = 13) for 6 months in aging men with subnormal bioavailable testosterone levels. The placebo-controlled, testosterone-induced changes (β-coefficients) in mRNA levels, protein expression and phosphorylation were examined by quantitative real-time PCR and western blotting. 

Results: Long-term TRT increased muscle mass by β = 1.6 kg (p = 0.01) but had no significant effect on mRNA levels of genes involved in myostatin/activin/SMAD or IGF1/FOXO3 signalling, muscle-specific E3-ubiquitin ligases, upstream transcription factors (MEF2C, PPARGC1A-4) or myogenic factors. However, TRT caused a sustained decrease in protein expression of SMAD2 (β = −36%, p = 0.004) and SMAD3 (β = −32%, p = 0.001), which was accompanied by reduced protein expression of the muscle-specific E3-ubiquitin ligases, MuRF1 (β = −26%, p = 0.004) and Atrogin-1/MAFbx (β = −20%, p = 0.04), but with no changes in FOXO3 signalling. Importantly, TRT did not affect muscle fibre type distribution between slow-oxidative (type 1), fast-oxidative (type 2a) and fast-glycolytic (type 2×) muscle fibres. 

Conclusions: Our results indicate that long-term TRT of elderly men with subnormal testosterone levels increases muscle mass, at least in part, by decreasing protein breakdown through the ubiquitin proteasome pathway mediated by a sustained suppression of SMAD-signalling and muscle-specific E3-ubiquitin ligases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number154347
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Protein breakdown, Skeletal muscle, SMAD signalling, Testosterone therapy, Ubiquitin proteasome system

ID: 248644383