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Open Access Research article

Using a 3D virtual muscle model to link gene expression changes during myogenesis to protein spatial location in muscle

Ashley J Waardenberg12*, Antonio Reverter13, Christine A Wells2 and Brian P Dalrymple13

Author Affiliations

1 CSIRO, Food Futures Flagship, Queensland Bioscience Precinct, 306 Carmody Road, St. Lucia, QLD 4067, Australia

2 Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies, Griffith University, Nathan, QLD 4111, Australia

3 CSIRO, Livestock Industries, Queensland Bioscience Precinct, 306 Carmody Road, St. Lucia, QLD 4067, Australia

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BMC Systems Biology 2008, 2:88  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-2-88

Published: 22 October 2008



Myogenesis is an ordered process whereby mononucleated muscle precursor cells (myoblasts) fuse into multinucleated myotubes that eventually differentiate into myofibres, involving substantial changes in gene expression and the organisation of structural components of the cells. To gain further insight into the orchestration of these structural changes we have overlaid the spatial organisation of the protein components of a muscle cell with their gene expression changes during differentiation using a new 3D visualisation tool: the Virtual Muscle 3D (VMus3D).


Sets of generic striated muscle costamere, Z-disk and filament proteins were constructed from the literature and protein-interaction databases. Expression profiles of the genes encoding these proteins were obtained from mouse C2C12 cells undergoing myogenesis in vitro, as well as a mouse tissue survey dataset. Visualisation of the expression data in VMus3D yielded novel observations with significant relationships between the spatial location and the temporal expression profiles of the structural protein products of these genes. A muscle specificity index was calculated based on muscle expression relative to the median expression in all tissues and, as expected, genes with the highest muscle specificity were also expressed most dynamically during differentiation. Interestingly, most genes encoding costamere as well as some Z-disk proteins appeared to be broadly expressed across most tissues and showed little change in expression during muscle differentiation, in line with the broader cellular role described for some of these proteins.


By studying gene expression patterns from a structural perspective we have demonstrated that not all genes encoding proteins that are part of muscle specific structures are simply up-regulated during muscle cell differentiation. Indeed, a group of genes whose expression program appears to be minimally affected by the differentiation process, code for proteins participating in vital skeletal muscle structures. Expression alone is a poor metric of gene behaviour. Instead, the "connectivity model of muscle development" is proposed as a mechanism for muscle development: whereby the closer to the myofibril core of muscle cells, the greater the gene expression changes during muscle differentiation and the greater the muscle specificity.