Neurectomy and botulinum toxin A (BoNT-A) injection cause denervated muscle atrophy, but questions remain about their clinical utility. We investigated time-series alterations of rat muscle weight, functional deficits, signaling pathways, and microscopic structures, to gain an understanding of the clinical implications. Between 2008 and 2009, the maximal calf circumference of patients for calf reduction either by neurectomy or BoNT-A injections were recorded for study. A rat skeletal muscle model was established through repeated or dose-adjusted BoNT-A injections and neurectomy. The survival, apoptosis pathways, functional deficits, and microscopic structures were investigated using Western blot, sciatic functional index (SFI), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), respectively. The rat muscle weight ratio of the BoNT-A group had recovered to 89.3 ± 3.8% by week 58, but it never recovered in the neurectomy group. Muscle weight reduction by BoNT-A not only depended on the dose, but additive effects were also obtained through repeated injections. Rat SFI demonstrated rapid recovery in both groups. Molecular expressions showed a coherent and biphasic pattern. p-Akt and apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) were upregulated significantly, with a peak at 8 weeks in the neurectomy group (p <0.01), but cleaved caspase-9 and caspase-3 showed no significant changes in either group. TEM findings showed irreversible and reversible inner-structure disruption and sarcomere discontinuity in the neurectomy and BoNT-A groups, respectively. We demonstrated that denervation induced lasting muscle weight and structural changes of different degrees. Muscle weight reduction by BoNT-A was related to frequency and dose. AIF-mediated caspase-independent apoptosis was significantly different for neurectomy and BoNT-A injection.
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