Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. John J. McCarthy

Second Advisor

Dr. Timothy S. McClintock


Skeletal muscle possesses remarkable plasticity in responses to altered mechanical load. An established murine model used to increase mechanical load on a muscle is the surgical removal of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, thereby placing a functional overload on the plantaris muscle. As a consequence, there is hypertrophic growth of the plantaris muscle. We used this model to study the molecular mechanisms regulating skeletal muscle hypertrophy.

Aged skeletal muscle demonstrates blunted hypertrophic growth in response to functional overload. We hypothesized that an alteration in gene expression would contribute to the blunted hypertrophic response observed with aging. However, the difference in gene expression was modest, with cluster analysis showing a similar pattern of expression between the two groups. Despite ribosomal protein gene expression being higher in the aged group, ribosome biogenesis was significantly lower in aged compared with young skeletal muscle in response to the hypertrophic stimulus (50% versus 2.5-fold, respectively). The failure to fully up-regulate pre-47S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) expression in old skeletal muscle undergoing hypertrophy indicated ribosomal DNA transcription by RNA polymerase I was impaired. Contrary to our hypothesis, the findings of the study suggest that impaired ribosome biogenesis was a primary factor underlying the blunted hypertrophic response observed in old skeletal muscle rather than dramatic differences in gene expression.

As it appears ribosomal biogenesis may limit muscle hypertrophy, we assessed the dynamic changes in global transcriptional output during muscle hypertrophy, as the majority of global transcription is dedicated to ribosome biogenesis during periods of rapid growth. Metabolic labeling of nascent RNA using 5-ethynyl uridine permitted the assessment of cell type specific changes in global transcription and how this transcription is distributed within the myofiber. Using this approach, we demonstrate that myofibers are the most transcriptionally active cell-type in skeletal muscle, and furthermore, myonuclei are able to dramatically upregulate global transcription during muscle hypertrophy. Interestingly, the myonuclear accretion that occurs with hypertrophy actually results in lower transcriptional output across nuclei within the muscle fiber relative to sham conditions. These findings argue against the notion that nuclear accretion in skeletal muscle is necessary to increase the transcriptional capacity of the cell in order to support a growth response.