Dexamethasone (Dex), alone or in association with estrogens, is often illegally administered per os at very low dosage as a growth promoter in beef cattle, with effects that are opposite to the muscle wasting and atrophy induced by repeated administration at therapeutic dosages. In vitro and in vivo studies have investigated the catabolic effects of Dex at therapeutic doses on skeletal muscle, demonstrating an increase in the expression of GDF8 (myostatin) gene, a well-known negative regulator of skeletal muscle mass, in a dose-dependent way. This suggested a direct role of myostatin in Dex-induced muscle wasting. In the present study, an oligonucleotide microarray platform was used to compare expression profiles of beef cattle muscle in animals treated with either Dex or Dex plus 17-β estradiol (Estr) administered at subtherapeutic dosage, against untreated controls. Data analysis demonstrates that the expression profiles were strongly affected by Dex treatment with hundreds of genes upregulated with relevant fold-change, whereas seven genes were downregulated including the myostatin gene. On the contrary, the number of differentially regulated genes was lower in response to the addition of Estr to the Dex treatment. Differentially regulated genes were analyzed to describe the effects of these treatments on muscle physiology, highlighting the importance of specific pathways (e.g., Wnt or cytokine signaling) and cellular processes (e.g., cell shape and motility). Finally, the observed differences in the expression profile will allow the development of indirect bio-markers to detect illegal Dex treatments in beef cattle using quantitative RT-PCR.

  • microarray
  • dexamethasone
  • estradiol
  • myostatin


  • * L. Carraro and S. Ferraresso contributed equally to this work.

  • Address for reprint requests and other correspondence: B. Cardazzo, Dipartimento di Sanità Pubblica Patologia Comparata ed Igiene Veterinaria, Università di Padova, Viale dell'Università 16, 35020 Legnaro (PD), Italy (e-mail: barbara.cardazzo{at}unipd.it)

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