Rheb, an activator of target of rapamycin, in the blackback land crab, Gecarcinus lateralis: cloning and effects of molting and unweighting on expression in skeletal muscle


Molt-induced claw muscle atrophy in decapod crustaceans facilitates exuviation and is coordinated by ecdysteroid hormones. There is a 4-fold reduction in mass accompanied by remodeling of the contractile apparatus, which is associated with an 11-fold increase in myofibrillar protein synthesis by the end of the premolt period. Loss of a walking limb or claw causes a loss of mass in the associated thoracic musculature; this unweighting atrophy occurs in intermolt and is ecdysteroid independent. Myostatin (Mstn) is a negative regulator of muscle growth in mammals; it suppresses protein synthesis, in part, by inhibiting the insulin/metazoan target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway. Signaling via mTOR activates translation by phosphorylating ribosomal S6 kinase (s6k) and 4E-binding protein 1. Rheb (Ras homolog enriched in brain), a GTP-binding protein, is a key activator of mTOR and is inhibited by Rheb-GTPase-activating protein (GAP). Akt protein kinase inactivates Rheb-GAP, thus slowing Rheb-GTPase activity and maintaining mTOR in the active state. We hypothesized that the large increase in global protein synthesis in claw muscle was due to regulation of mTOR activity by ecdysteroids, caused either directly or indirectly via Mstn. In the blackback land crab, Gecarcinus lateralis, a Mstn-like gene (Gl-Mstn) is downregulated as much as 17-fold in claw muscle during premolt and upregulated 3-fold in unweighted thoracic muscle during intermolt. Gl-Mstn expression in claw muscle is negatively correlated with hemolymph ecdysteroid level. Full-length cDNAs encoding Rheb orthologs from three crustacean species (G. lateralis, Carcinus maenas and Homarus americanus), as well as partial cDNAs encoding Akt (Gl-Akt), mTOR (Gl-mTOR) and s6k (Gl-s6k) from G. lateralis, were cloned. The effects of molting on insulin/mTOR signaling components were quantified in claw closer, weighted thoracic and unweighted thoracic muscles using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Gl-Rheb mRNA levels increased 3.4-fold and 3.9-fold during premolt in claw muscles from animals induced to molt by eyestalk ablation (ESA) and multiple leg autotomy (MLA), respectively, and mRNA levels were positively correlated with hemolymph ecdysteroids. There was little or no effect of molting on Gl-Rheb expression in weighted thoracic muscle and no correlation of Gl-Rheb mRNA with ecdysteroid titer. There were significant changes in Gl-Akt, Gl-mTOR and Gl-s6k expression with molt stage. These changes were transient and were not correlated with hemolymph ecdysteroids. The two muscles differed in terms of the relationship between Gl-Rheb and Gl-Mstn expression. In thoracic muscle, Gl-Rheb mRNA was positively correlated with Gl-Mstn mRNA in both ESA and MLA animals. By contrast, Gl-Rheb mRNA in claw muscle was negatively correlated with Gl-Mstn mRNA in ESA animals, and no correlation was observed in MLA animals. Unweighting increased Gl-Rheb expression in thoracic muscle at all molt stages; the greatest difference (2.2-fold) was observed in intermolt animals. There was also a 1.3-fold increase in Gl-s6k mRNA level in unweighted thoracic muscle. These data indicate that the mTOR pathway is upregulated in atrophic muscles. Gl-Rheb, in particular, appears to play a role in the molt-induced increase in protein synthesis in the claw muscle.

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Journal of Experimental Biology


The Company of Biologists

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