Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD) is a progressive X-linked muscle wasting disease for which there is no treatment. Like Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), BMD is caused by mutations in the gene encoding dystrophin, a structural cytoskeletal protein that also targets other proteins to the muscle sarcolemma. Among these is neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOSμ), which requires certain spectrin-like repeats in dystrophin's rod domain and the adaptor protein α-syntrophin to be targeted to the sarcolemma. When healthy skeletal muscle is subjected to exercise, sarcolemmal nNOSμ-derived NO attenuates local α-adrenergic vasoconstriction, thereby optimizing perfusion of muscle. We found previously that this protective mechanism is defective - causing functional muscle ischemia - in dystrophin-deficient muscles of the mdx mouse (a model of DMD) and of children with DMD, in whom nNOSμ is mislocalized to the cytosol instead of the sarcolemma. We report that this protective mechanism also is defective in men with BMD in whom the most common dystrophin mutations disrupt sarcolemmal targeting of nNOSμ. In these men, the vasoconstrictor response, measured as a decrease in muscle oxygenation, to reflex sympathetic activation is not appropriately attenuated during exercise of the dystrophic muscles. In a randomized placebo-controlled crossover trial, we show that functional muscle ischemia is alleviated and normal blood flow regulation is fully restored in the muscles of men with BMD by boosting NO-cGMP (guanosine 3′,5′-monophosphate) signaling with a single dose of the drug tadalafil, a phosphodiesterase 5A inhibitor. These results further support an essential role for sarcolemmal nNOSμ in the normal modulation of sympathetic vasoconstriction in exercising human skeletal muscle and implicate the NO-cGMP pathway as a putative new target for treating BMD.
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