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Alternative splicing diversifies the skeletal muscle transcriptome during prolonged spaceflight.

Skeletal Muscle 2022 May 32
BACKGROUND: As the interest in manned spaceflight increases, so does the requirement to understand the transcriptomic mechanisms that underlay the detrimental physiological adaptations of skeletal muscle to microgravity. While microgravity-induced differential gene expression (DGE) has been extensively investigated, the contribution of differential alternative splicing (DAS) to the plasticity and functional status of the skeletal muscle transcriptome has not been studied in an animal model. Therefore, by evaluating both DGE and DAS across spaceflight, we set out to provide the first comprehensive characterization of the transcriptomic landscape of skeletal muscle during exposure to microgravity.

METHODS: RNA-sequencing, immunohistochemistry, and morphological analyses were conducted utilizing total RNA and tissue sections isolated from the gastrocnemius and quadriceps muscles of 30-week-old female BALB/c mice exposed to microgravity or ground control conditions for 9 weeks.

RESULTS: In response to microgravity, the skeletal muscle transcriptome was remodeled via both DGE and DAS. Importantly, while DGE showed variable gene network enrichment, DAS was enriched in structural and functional gene networks of skeletal muscle, resulting in the expression of alternatively spliced transcript isoforms that have been associated with the physiological changes to skeletal muscle in microgravity, including muscle atrophy and altered fiber type function. Finally, RNA-binding proteins, which are required for regulation of pre-mRNA splicing, were themselves differentially spliced but not differentially expressed, an upstream event that is speculated to account for the downstream splicing changes identified in target skeletal muscle genes.

CONCLUSIONS: Our work serves as the first investigation of coordinate changes in DGE and DAS in large limb muscles across spaceflight. It opens up a new opportunity to understand (i) the molecular mechanisms by which splice variants of skeletal muscle genes regulate the physiological adaptations of skeletal muscle to microgravity and (ii) how small molecule splicing regulator therapies might thwart muscle atrophy and alterations to fiber type function during prolonged spaceflight.

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