Elevated levels of a C-terminal agrin fragment identifies a new subset of sarcopenia patients

Stefan Hettwer, Pius Dahinden, Stefan Kucsera, Carlo Farina, Shaheen Ahmed, Ruggero Fariello, Michael Drey, Cornel Christian Sieber, Jan Willem Vrijbloed
Experimental Gerontology 2013, 48 (1): 69-75
Sarcopenia is a recently defined medical condition described as age-associated loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. Recently, a transgenic mouse model was described linking dispersal of the neuromuscular junction caused by elevated agrin degradation to the rapid onset of sarcopenia. These mice show a significant elevation of serum levels of a C-terminal agrin fragment (CAF) compared to wild-type littermates. A series of experiments was designed to ascertain the significance of elevated agrin degradation in the development of human sarcopenia. A quantitative Western blot method was devised to detect CAF in sera of humans. A first trial on consenting blood donors (n=169; age 19-74 years) detected CAF in the limited range of 2.76 ± 0.95 ng/ml. In sarcopenia patients (diagnosed according to clinical and instrumental standards) mean CAF levels were significantly elevated (p=9.8E10-9; n=73; age 65-87 years) compared to aged matched controls. Of all sarcopenia patients, 40% had elevated, non-overlapping CAF levels compared to controls. Evidence is presented for a pathogenic role of the agrin/neurotrypsin system in a substantial subset of sarcopenia patients. These patients are characterized by elevated CAF blood levels compared to aged-matched healthy volunteers suggesting the identification of an agrin-dependent form of sarcopenia. Elevated CAF levels in a large subpopulation of sarcopenic patients suggest the existence of a specific form of sarcopenia for which CAF could become a biomarker and a new target for therapeutic interventions. The feasibility of this approach was demonstrated by the development of a small molecule capable of inhibiting neurotrypsin in vitro and in vivo.

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