GDF11 promotes osteogenesis as opposed to MSTN, and follistatin, a MSTN/GDF11 inhibitor, increases muscle mass but weakens bone.

Joonho Suh
Na-Kyung Kim
Seung-Hoon Lee
Je-Hyun Eom
Youngkyun Lee
Joo-Cheol Park
Kyung Mi Woo
Jeong-Hwa Baek
Jung-Eun Kim
Hyun-Mo Ryoo
Se-Jin Lee, The Jackson Laboratory
Yun-Sil Lee


Growth and differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) and myostatin (MSTN) are closely related transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) family members, but their biological functions are quite distinct. While MSTN has been widely shown to inhibit muscle growth, GDF11 regulates skeletal patterning and organ development during embryogenesis. Postnatal functions of GDF11, however, remain less clear and controversial. Due to the perinatal lethality of Gdf11 null mice, previous studies used recombinant GDF11 protein to prove its postnatal function. However, recombinant GDF11 and MSTN proteins share nearly identical biochemical properties, and most GDF11-binding molecules have also been shown to bind MSTN, generating the possibility that the effects mediated by recombinant GDF11 protein actually reproduce the endogenous functions of MSTN. To clarify the endogenous functions of GDF11, here, we focus on genetic studies and show that Gdf11 null mice, despite significantly down-regulating Mstn expression, exhibit reduced bone mass through impaired osteoblast (OB) and chondrocyte (CH) maturations and increased osteoclastogenesis, while the opposite is observed in Mstn null mice that display enhanced bone mass. Mechanistically, Mstn deletion up-regulates Gdf11 expression, which activates bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling pathway to enhance osteogenesis. Also, mice overexpressing follistatin (FST), a MSTN/GDF11 inhibitor, exhibit increased muscle mass accompanied by bone fractures, unlike Mstn null mice that display increased muscle mass without fractures, indicating that inhibition of GDF11 impairs bone strength. Together, our findings suggest that GDF11 promotes osteogenesis in contrast to MSTN, and these opposing roles of GDF11 and MSTN must be considered to avoid the detrimental effect of GDF11 inhibition when developing MSTN/GDF11 inhibitors for therapeutic purposes.