Morphological and biochemical patterns in skeletal muscle apoptosis

A. D'Emilio, L. Biagiotti, S. Burattini, M. Battistelli, B. Canonico, C. Evangelisti, P. Ferri, S. Papa, A. M. Martelli, Elisabetta Falcieri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some neuromuscular disorders, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, hereditary inclusion body myopathy, malignant hyperthermia, alcoholic myopathy and mitochondrial myopathies are characterized by oxidative stress and loss of muscle fibres due to apoptosis. In this study we have analyzed muscle cell death in vitro utilizing C2C12 myoblasts and myotubes, inducing apoptosis by means of UVB irradiation. C2C12 cells were analysed by scanning and transmission electron microscopy (SEM, TEM) as well as by TUNEL reaction. DNA analysis was performed by gel electrophoresis and flow cytometry. MitoTracker red CMXRos and JC-1 fluorescent probes were also used to study mitochondrial behavior. Finally, caspase activity was investigated by means of Western blot, while caspase-9 and -3 inhibitor effects by means of SEM. SEM showed the typical membrane blebbing while TEM revealed the characteristic chromatin condensation. The TUNEL reaction presented a certain positivity too. Apoptotic and non-apoptotic nuclei in the same myotube were identified both by TUNEL and TEM. Gel electrophoresis never showed oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation, in agreement with the cell cycle analysis performed by flow cytometry which did not reveal a sharp subdiploid peak. Mitochondrial response to UVB was later investigated and a decrease in mitochondrial functionality appeared. Caspase-9 and -3 cleavage, and, consequently, the activation of the caspase cascade, was also demonstrated by Western blot. Moreover a decrease in apoptotic cell number was noted after caspase-9 and-3 inhibitor treatment. All these results indicated that UVB irradiation induces apoptosis, both in myoblasts and in myotubes, the second being more resistant. DNA fragmentation, at least the nucleosomic type, does not occur. A certain double-strand cleavage appears in TUNEL analysis, as well as characteristic ultrastructural changes in chromatin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-32
Number of pages12
JournalHistology and Histopathology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010


  • Apoptosis
  • C2C12 cells
  • Electron microscopy
  • UVB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Histology
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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