An investigation of the stem cell potential of skeletal muscle satellite cells
Satellite cells are defined by their position beneath the basal lamina of myofibres, and are a source of new myonuclei in adult skeletal muscles. However, other phenotypes also contribute to muscle regeneration, and the relative importance of satellite cells is not known. This work aimed to analyse the stem cell potential of satellite cells by formally investigating their contribution to muscle regeneration. Myofibres isolated from extensor digitorum longus, soleus, and tibialis anterior muscles were found to have respective means of 7,22 and 10 associated satellite cells. When a single myofibre was grafted into an irradiated dystrophic mouse muscle, the associated satellite cells underwent extensive, stem cell-like proliferation, generating progeny which sometimes gave rise to a cluster of more than 100 new myofibres. Cluster size varied according to the muscle group from which the graft was derived, but was not proportional to satellite cell number. Primary myoblasts derived from equivalent muscle groups did not undergo such extensive proliferation, or show inter-muscle variability, suggesting that stem cell activity is critically dependent on a component of the satellite cell niche. Single myofibres isolated from irradiated muscles were non-myogenic after grafting. Satellite cells associated with single myofibres were found to generate new satellite cells in engrafted muscles, demonstrating that satellite cell compartment is maintained by self-renewal. When single myofibre-engrafted muscles were damaged with myotoxin, graft-derived cells underwent rapid clonal expansion to regenerate compact clusters of donor-derived myofibres. The percentage of engrafted muscles containing identifiable donor-derived nuclei was increased after damage, showing that previously inactive cells had been recruited into an active myogenic program. Without experimentally-induced damage, frequency of muscle formation and cluster size were spontaneously augmented over time. These findings demonstrate that satellite cells have several stem cell-like qualities, and thus constitute a self-sufficient and sustainable source of regeneration in adult muscles.