The cross-system cytokine is IL-4, which is required in immune cells for macrophage fusion. Not one to throw away a good thing, Nature evidently coopted the system for muscle cells. As in immune cells, IL-4 expression in nascent myotubes is driven by a member of the NFAT transcription factor family. Myotubes lacking either IL-4 or the NFAT factor were smaller and had fewer nuclei than wild-type cells. Recovery from muscle injury was also diminished by the lack of IL-4 or the IL4α receptor.
Myoblasts are the targets of IL-4 action, which may promote fusion by inducing myoblast expression of adhesion molecules such as integrins (as in macrophages) or VCAM. Alternatively, IL-4 may act as a chemokine, as it does for osteoblasts, to stimulate migration of myoblasts toward myotubes. Whatever the mechanism, stem cell therapies for disorders such as muscular dystrophies may be improved by expression of IL-4 to increase the fusion capacity of the muscle stem cells. ▪