Calpain-mediated proteolysis of the thin filament pointed-end–capping protein tropomodulin results in actin subunit association onto pointed ends and increased thin filament lengths in two different murine models of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This mechanism affects different skeletal muscles in a use- and disease severity–dependent manner.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) induces sarcolemmal mechanical instability and rupture, hyperactivity of intracellular calpains, and proteolytic breakdown of muscle structural proteins. Here we identify the two sarcomeric tropomodulin (Tmod) isoforms, Tmod1 and Tmod4, as novel proteolytic targets of m-calpain, with Tmod1 exhibiting ∼10-fold greater sensitivity to calpain-mediated cleavage than Tmod4 in situ. In mdx mice, increased m-calpain levels in dystrophic soleus muscle are associated with loss of Tmod1 from the thin filament pointed ends, resulting in ∼11% increase in thin filament lengths. In mdx/mTR mice, a more severe model of DMD, Tmod1 disappears from the thin filament pointed ends in both tibialis anterior (TA) and soleus muscles, whereas Tmod4 additionally disappears from soleus muscle, resulting in thin filament length increases of ∼10 and ∼12% in TA and soleus muscles, respectively. In both mdx and mdx/mTR mice, both TA and soleus muscles exhibit normal localization of α-actinin, the nebulin M1M2M3 domain, Tmod3, and cytoplasmic γ-actin, indicating that m-calpain does not cause wholesale proteolysis of other sarcomeric and actin cytoskeletal proteins in dystrophic skeletal muscle. These results implicate Tmod proteolysis and resultant thin filament length misspecification as novel mechanisms that may contribute to DMD pathology, affecting muscles in a use- and disease severity–dependent manner.