Just when you thought steroids waste muscles, a team of researchers found that its weekly doses can be beneficial. Weekly doses of glucocorticoid steroids, such as prednisone, help speed recovery in muscle injuries, reported the Northwestern Medicine study. The weekly steroids also repaired muscles damaged by muscular dystrophy.
The studies were conducted in mice, with broad implications for humans. One of the major problems of using steroids such as prednisone is they cause muscle wasting and weakness when taken long term. This is a significant problem for people who take steroids for many chronic conditions, and can often result in patients having to stop steroid treatments.
But the new study in mice showed weekly doses, rather than daily ones, promote muscle repair. “We don’t have human data yet, but these findings strongly suggest some alternative ways of giving a very commonly used drug in a manner that doesn’t harm, but in fact helps muscle,” said lead investigator Elizabeth McNally.
The study showed prednisone directs the production of annexins, proteins that stimulate muscle healing. Giving weekly doses of prednisone also stimulated a molecule called KLF15, which is associated with improved muscle performance. Daily doses of prednisone, however, reduced KLF15, leading to muscle wasting.
In the future, McNally would like to test steroids in humans and is considering studying it in forms of muscular dystrophy in which steroids would not normally be given, like Becker Muscular Dystrophy or Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy. Steroid treatment is not usually offered for these diseases since the side effects are thought to outweigh any potential benefit.
The study is published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.