Partial denervation or paralysis of adult skeletal muscle is followed by nerve sprouting, probably due to release of diffusible sprout-inducing activity by inactive muscle. Insulin-like growth factors (IGF1 and IFG2) are candidates for muscle-derived sprouting activity, because (a) they induce neurite growth from peripheral neurons in vitro; and (b) their mRNA levels in adult skeletal muscle increase severalfold after denervation or paralysis. We sought to determine whether the presence of elevated levels of IGFs in innervated adult skeletal muscle was sufficient to produce intramuscular nerve growth. Low concentrations of IGFs induced massive neurite growth from enriched embryonic chick motoneurons in vitro. Half-maximal responses required 0.2 nM IGF2 or IGF1, or 20 nM insulin. Similar hormone binding properties of motoneuron processes in vitro were observed. Exposure of adult rat or mouse gluteus muscle in vivo to low quantities of exogenous IGF2 or IGF1 led to intramuscular nerve sprouting. Numbers of sprouts in IGF-exposed muscles were 10-fold higher than in vehicle-exposed or untreated muscles, and 12.2% of the end plates in IGF-exposed muscle (control: 2.7%) had sprouts growing from them. The nerve growth reaction was accompanied by elevated levels of intramuscular nerve-specific growth-associated protein GAP43. Additional properties of IGF-exposed muscle included modest proliferation of interstitial cells and elevated interstitial J1 immunoreactivity. These results suggest that elevated levels of IGFs in denervated or paralyzed muscle might trigger coordinate regenerative reactions, including nerve sprouting and expression of nerve growth-supporting substrate molecules by activated interstitial cells.

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