Muscular dystrophies are inherited neuromuscular diseases, resulting in progressive disability and often affecting life expectancy. The most severe, common types are Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and Limb-girdle sarcoglycanopathy, which cause advancing muscle weakness and wasting. These diseases share a common pathomechanism where, due to the loss of the anchoring dystrophin (DMD, dystrophinopathy) or due to mutations in sarcoglycan-encoding genes (LGMDR3 to LGMDR6), the α-sarcoglycan ecto-ATPase activity is lost. This disturbs important purinergic signaling: An acute muscle injury causes the release of large quantities of ATP, which acts as a damage-associated molecular pattern (DAMP). DAMPs trigger inflammation that clears dead tissues and initiates regeneration that eventually restores normal muscle function. However, in DMD and LGMD, the loss of ecto-ATPase activity, that normally curtails this extracellular ATP (eATP)-evoked stimulation, causes exceedingly high eATP levels. Thus, in dystrophic muscles, the acute inflammation becomes chronic and damaging. The very high eATP over-activates P2X7 purinoceptors, not only maintaining the inflammation but also tuning the potentially compensatory P2X7 up-regulation in dystrophic muscle cells into a cell-damaging mechanism exacerbating the pathology. Thus, the P2X7 receptor in dystrophic muscles is a specific therapeutic target. Accordingly, the P2X7 blockade alleviated dystrophic damage in mouse models of dystrophinopathy and sarcoglycanopathy. Therefore, the existing P2X7 blockers should be considered for the treatment of these highly debilitating diseases. This review aims to present the current understanding of the eATP-P2X7 purinoceptor axis in the pathogenesis and treatment of muscular dystrophies.
- Duchenne muscular dystrophy