To identify genes regulated during skeletal muscle differentiation, we have infected mouse C2C12 myoblasts with retroviral gene trap vectors, containing a promoterless marker gene with a 5' splice acceptor signal. Integration of the vector adjacent to an actively transcribed gene places the marker under the transcriptional control of the endogenous gene, while the adjacent vector sequences facilitate cloning. The vector insertionally mutates the trapped locus and may also form fusion proteins with the endogenous gene product. We have screened several hundred clones, each containing a trapping vector integrated into a different endogenous gene. In agreement with previous estimates based on hybridization kinetics, we find that a large proportion of all genes expressed in myoblasts are regulated during differentiation. Many of these genes undergo unique temporal patterns of activation or repression during cell growth and myotube formation, and some show specific patterns of subcellular localization. The first gene we have identified with this strategy is the lysosomal cysteine protease cathepsin B. Expression from the trapped allele is upregulated during early myoblast fusion and downregulated in myotubes. A direct role for cathepsin B in myoblast growth and fusion is suggested by the observation that the trapped cells deficient in cathepsin B activity have an unusual morphology and reduced survival in low-serum media and undergo differentiation with impaired cellular fusion. The phenotype is reproduced by antisense cathepsin B expression in parental C2C12 myoblasts. The cellular phenotype is similar to that observed in cultured myoblasts from patients with I cell disease, in which there is diminished accumulation of lysosomal enzymes. This suggests that a specific deficiency of cathepsin B could contribute to the myopathic component of this illness.

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