p53 and ATF4 mediate distinct and additive pathways to skeletal muscle atrophy during limb immobilization

Daniel K. Fox, Scott M. Ebert, Kale S. Bongers, Michael C. Dyle, Steven A. Bullard, Jason M. Dierdorff, Steven D. Kunkel, Christopher M. Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Immobilization causes skeletal muscle atrophy via complex signaling pathways that are not well understood. To better understand these pathways, we investigated the roles of p53 and ATF4, two transcription factors that mediate adaptations to a variety of cellular stresses. Using mouse models, we demonstrate that 3 days of muscle immobilization induces muscle atrophy and increases expression of p53 and ATF4. Furthermore, muscle fibers lacking p53 or ATF4 are partially resistant to immobilization-induced muscle atrophy, and forced expression of p53 or ATF4 induces muscle fiber atrophy in the absence of immobilization. Importantly, however, p53 and ATF4 do not require each other to promote atrophy, and coexpression of p53 and ATF4 induces more atrophy than either transcription factor alone. Moreover, muscle fibers lacking both p53 and ATF4 are more resistant to immobilization-induced atrophy than fibers lacking only p53 or ATF4. Interestingly, the independent and additive nature of the p53 and ATF4 pathways allows for combinatorial control of at least one downstream effector, p21. Using genome-wide mRNA expression arrays, we identified p21 mRNA as a skeletal muscle transcript that is highly induced in immobilized muscle via the combined actions of p53 and ATF4. Additionally, in mouse muscle, p21 induces atrophy in a manner that does not require immobilization, p53 or ATF4, and p21 is required for atrophy induced by immobilization, p53, and ATF4. Collectively, these results identify p53 and ATF4 as essential and complementary mediators of immobilization-induced muscle atrophy and discover p21 as a critical downstream effector of the p53 and ATF4 pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E245-E261
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014


  • Activating transcription factor 4
  • Immobilization
  • Skeletal muscle
  • Skeletal muscle atrophy
  • p21
  • p53

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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