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Open Access Methodology article

Characterisation of the sarcomeric myosin heavy chain multigene family in the laboratory guinea pig

Daniel P Tonge1*, Simon W Jones2, Ronald G Bardsley1 and Tim Parr1

Author Affiliations

1 Nutritional Sciences School of Biosciences Sutton Bonington Campus University of Nottingham LE12 5RD, UK

2 Respiratory and Inflammation Research AstraZeneca, Alderley Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK10 4TG, UK

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BMC Molecular Biology 2010, 11:52  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-11-52

Published: 29 June 2010



Several chronic conditions leading to skeletal muscle dysfunction are known to be associated with changes in the expression of myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoforms at both the mRNA and protein level. Many of these conditions are modelled, pre-clinically, in the guinea pig due to similar disease onset and progression to the human condition, and their generally well-characterised anatomy. MHC composition is amenable to determination by protein and mRNA based methodologies, the latter quantifying the expression of MHC isoform-specific gene transcripts allowing the detection of earlier, and more subtle changes. As such, the MHC mRNAs, and specific oligonucleotide primers of all common laboratory species have been available for some time. However, due to incomplete genomic annotation, assessment of guinea pig MHC mRNA expression has not been previously possible, precluding the full characterisation of early changes in skeletal muscle in response to disease and disease modulation.

The purpose of this study was to characterise the multigenic structure of the sarcomeric MHC family in the guinea pig, and to design and validate specific oligonucleotide primers to enable the assessment of the predominant adult-muscle associated MHC mRNAs in relevant disease models.


Using a combination of ligase-mediated rapid amplification of 5' and 3' cDNA ends (RACE) and bioinformatics, mRNAs to the four main skeletal-muscle isoforms of MHC were determined. Specific oligonucleotide primers were designed, and following verification of their specificity, found to successfully determine the expression of each MHC mRNA independently.


Because of their utilisation in the in vivo modelling of disease, there is a requirement to develop molecular methods that accurately differentiate the different MHC mRNAs in the guinea pig to enable rapid profiling of muscle composition in appropriate disease models. The methods developed here are suitable for the characterisation of muscle MHC expression at the molecular level from animal tissue samples and biopsy material. The publication of these specific oligonucleotide primers for the guinea pig MHC variants will enable researchers to rapidly and accurately quantify acute changes in MHC mRNA expression in either developmental or in guinea pig disease models where a marker of altered skeletal muscle function is required.