Muscular Dystrophies and Other Muscle Diseases

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Muscular Dystrophies and Other Muscle Diseases

Anthony A. Amato, Robert H. Brown, Jr.


Skeletal muscle diseases, or myopathies, are disorders with structural changes or functional impairment of muscle. These conditions can be differentiated from other diseases of the motor unit (e.g., lower motor neuron or neuromuscular junction pathologies) by characteristic clinical and laboratory findings.

Myasthenia gravis and related disorders are discussed in Chap. 461; dermatomyositis, polymyositis, and inclusion body myositis are discussed in Chap. 388.


Most myopathies present with proximal, symmetric limb weakness (arms or legs) with preserved reflexes and sensation. However, asymmetric and predominantly distal weakness can be seen in some myopathies. An associated sensory loss suggests injury to a peripheral nerve or the central nervous system (CNS) rather than myopathy. On occasion, disorders affecting the motor nerve cell bodies in the spinal cord (anterior horn cell disease), the neuromuscular junction, or peripheral nerves can mimic findings of myopathy.

Muscle Weakness Symptoms of muscle weakness can be either intermittent or persistent. Disorders causing intermittent weakness (Fig. 462e-1) include myasthenia gravis, periodic paralyses (hypokalemic, hyperkalemic, and paramyotonia congenita), and metabolic energy deficiencies of glycolysis (especially myophosphorylase deficiency), fatty acid utilization (carnitine palmitoyltransferase deficiency), and some mitochondrial myopathies. The states of energy deficiency cause activity-related muscle breakdown accompanied by myoglobinuria, appearing as light-brown- to dark-brown-colored urine.


FIGURE 462e-1   Diagnostic evaluation of intermittent weakness. AChR AB, acetylcholine receptor antibody; CPT, carnitine palmitoyltransferase; EOMs, extraocular muscles; MG, myasthenia gravis; PP, periodic paralysis.

Most muscle disorders cause persistent weakness (Fig. 462e-2). In the majority of these, including most types of muscular dystrophy, polymyositis, and dermatomyositis, the proximal muscles are weaker than the distal and are symmetrically affected, and the facial muscles are spared, a pattern referred to as limb-girdle. The differential diagnosis is more restricted for other patterns of weakness. Facial weakness (difficulty with eye closure and impaired smile) and scapular winging (Fig. 462e-3) are characteristic of facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD). Facial and distal limb weakness associated with hand grip myotonia is virtually diagnostic of myotonic dystrophy type 1. When other cranial nerve muscles are weak, causing ptosis or extraocular muscle weakness, the most important disorders to consider include neuromuscular junction disorders, oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, mitochondrial myopathies, or some of the congenital myopathies (Table 462e-1). A pathognomonic pattern characteristic of inclusion body myositis is atrophy and weakness of the flexor forearm (e.g., wrist and finger flexors) and quadriceps muscles that is often asymmetric. Less frequently, but important diagnostically, is the presence of a dropped head syndrome indicative of selective neck extensor muscle weakness. The most important neuromuscular diseases associated with this pattern of weakness include myasthenia gravis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, late-onset nemaline myopathy, hyperparathyroidism, focal myositis, and some forms of inclusion body myopathy. A final pattern, recognized because of preferential distal extremity weakness, is typical of a unique category of muscular dystrophy, the distal myopathies.


FIGURE 462e-2   Diagnostic evaluation of persistent weakness. Examination reveals one of seven patterns of weakness. The pattern of weakness in combination with the laboratory evaluation leads to a diagnosis. ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; CK, creatine kinase; DM, dermatomyositis; EMG, electromyography; EOMs, extraocular muscles; FSHD, facioscapulohumeral dystrophy; IBM, inclusion body myositis; MG, myasthenia gravis; OPMD, oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy; PM, polymyositis.


FIGURE 462e-3   Facioscapulohumeral dystrophy with prominent scapular winging.

TABLE 462e-1


Peripheral Neuropathy

Guillain-Barré syndrome

Miller Fisher syndrome

Neuromuscular Junction


Lambert-Eaton syndrome

Myasthenia gravis

Congenital myasthenia


Mitochondrial myopathies

Kearns-Sayre syndrome

Progressive external ophthalmoplegia

Oculopharyngeal and oculopharyngodistal muscular dystrophy

Myotonic dystrophy (ptosis only)

Congenital myopathy


Nemaline (ptosis only)

Hyperthyroidism/Graves’ disease (ophthalmoplegia without ptosis)

Hereditary inclusion body myopathy type 3

It is important to examine functional capabilities to help disclose certain patterns of weakness (Table 462e-2). The Gowers’ sign (Fig. 462e-4) is particularly useful. Observing the gait of an individual may disclose a lordotic posture caused by combined trunk and hip weakness, frequently exaggerated by toe walking (Fig. 462e-5). A waddling gait is caused by the inability of weak hip muscles to prevent hip drop or hip dip. Hyperextension of the knee (genu recurvatum or back-kneeing) is characteristic of quadriceps muscle weakness; and a steppage gait, due to footdrop, accompanies distal weakness.

TABLE 462e-2




FIGURE 462e-4   Gowers’ sign showing a patient using his arms to climb up the legs in attempting to get up from the floor.


FIGURE 462e-5   Lordotic posture, exaggerated by standing on toes, associated with trunk and hip weakness.

Any disorder causing muscle weakness may be accompanied by fatigue, referring to an inability to maintain or sustain a force (pathologic fatigability). This condition must be differentiated from asthenia, a type of fatigue caused by excess tiredness or lack of energy. Associated symptoms may help differentiate asthenia and pathologic fatigability. Asthenia is often accompanied by a tendency to avoid physical activities, complaints of daytime sleepiness, necessity for frequent naps, and difficulty concentrating on activities such as reading. There may be feelings of overwhelming stress and depression. Thus, asthenia is not a myopathy. In contrast, pathologic fatigability occurs in disorders of neuromuscular transmission and in disorders altering energy production, including defects in glycolysis, lipid metabolism, or mitochondrial energy production. Pathologic fatigability also occurs in chronic myopathies because of difficulty accomplishing a task with less muscle. Pathologic fatigability is accompanied by abnormal clinical or laboratory findings. Fatigue without those supportive features almost never indicates a primary muscle disease.

Muscle Pain (Myalgias), Cramps, and Stiffness   Muscle pain can be associated with cramps, spasms, contractures, and stiff or rigid muscles. In distinction, true myalgia (muscle aching), which can be localized or generalized, may be accompanied by weakness, tenderness to palpation, or swelling. Certain drugs cause true myalgia (Table 462e-3).

TABLE 462e-3












Statins and other cholesterol-lowering agents



There are two painful muscle conditions of particular importance, neither of which is associated with muscle weakness. Fibromyalgia is a common, yet poorly understood, type of myofascial pain syndrome. Patients complain of severe muscle pain and tenderness and have specific painful trigger points, sleep disturbances, and easy fatigability. Serum creatine kinase (CK), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), electromyography (EMG), and muscle biopsy are normal (Chap. 396). Polymyalgia rheumatica occurs mainly in patients >50 years and is characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulders, lower back, hips, and thighs (Chap. 385). The ESR is elevated, while serum CK, EMG, and muscle biopsy are normal. Temporal arteritis, an inflammatory disorder of medium- and large-sized arteries, usually involving one or more branches of the carotid artery, may accompany polymyalgia rheumatica. Vision is threatened by ischemic optic neuritis. Glucocorticoids can relieve the myalgias and protect against visual loss.

Localized muscle pain is most often traumatic. A common cause of sudden abrupt-onset pain is a ruptured tendon, which leaves the muscle belly appearing rounded and shorter in appearance compared to the normal side. The biceps brachii and Achilles tendons are particularly vulnerable to rupture. Infection or neoplastic infiltration of the muscle is a rare cause of localized muscle pain.

A muscle cramp or spasm is a painful, involuntary, localized, muscle contraction with a visible or palpable hardening of the muscle. Cramps are abrupt in onset, short in duration, and may cause abnormal posturing of the joint. The EMG shows firing of motor units, reflecting an origin from spontaneous neural discharge. Muscle cramps often occur in neurogenic disorders, especially motor neuron disease (Chap. 452), radiculopathies, and polyneuropathies (Chap. 459), but are not a feature of most primary muscle diseases. Duchenne muscular dystrophy is an exception because calf muscle complaints are a common complaint. Muscle cramps are also common during pregnancy.

A muscle contracture is different from a muscle cramp. In both conditions, the muscle becomes hard, but a contracture is associated with energy failure in glycolytic disorders. The muscle is unable to relax after an active muscle contraction. The EMG shows electrical silence. Confusion is created because contracture also refers to a muscle that cannot be passively stretched to its proper length (fixed contracture) because of fibrosis. In some muscle disorders, especially in Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy and Bethlem myopathy, fixed contractures occur early and represent distinctive features of the disease.

Muscle stiffness can refer to different phenomena. Some patients with inflammation of joints and periarticular surfaces feel stiff. This condition is different from the disorders of hyperexcitable motor nerves causing stiff or rigid muscles. In stiff-person syndrome, spontaneous discharges of the motor neurons of the spinal cord cause involuntary muscle contractions mainly involving the axial (trunk) and proximal lower extremity muscles. The gait becomes stiff and labored, with hyperlordosis of the lumbar spine. Superimposed episodic muscle spasms are precipitated by sudden movements, unexpected noises, and emotional upset. The muscles relax during sleep. Serum antibodies against glutamic acid decarboxylase are present in approximately two-thirds of cases. In neuromyotonia (Isaacs’ syndrome), there is hyperexcitability of the peripheral nerves manifesting as continuous muscle fiber activity. Myokymia (groups of fasciculations associated with continuous undulations of muscle) and impaired muscle relaxation are the result. Muscles of the leg are stiff, and the constant contractions of the muscle cause increased sweating of the extremities. This peripheral nerve hyperexcitability is mediated by antibodies that target voltage-gated potassium channels. The site of origin of the spontaneous nerve discharges is principally in the distal portion of the motor nerves.

Myotonia is a condition of prolonged muscle contraction followed by slow muscle relaxation. It always follows muscle activation (action myotonia), usually voluntary, but may be elicited by mechanical stimulation (percussion myotonia) of the muscle. Myotonia typically causes difficulty in releasing objects after a firm grasp. In myotonic muscular dystrophy type 1 (DM1), distal weakness usually accompanies myotonia, whereas in DM2, proximal muscles are more affected; thus the related term proximal myotonic myopathy (PROMM) is used to describe this condition. Myotonia also occurs with myotonia congenita (a chloride channel disorder), but in this condition muscle weakness is not prominent. Myotonia may also be seen in individuals with sodium channel mutations (hyperkalemic periodic paralysis or potassium-sensitive myotonia). Another sodium channelopathy, paramyotonia congenita, also is associated with muscle stiffness. In contrast to other disorders associated with myotonia in which the myotonia is eased by repetitive activity, paramyotonia congenita is named for a paradoxical phenomenon whereby the myotonia worsens with repetitive activity.

Muscle Enlargement and Atrophy   In most myopathies muscle tissue is replaced by fat and connective tissue, but the size of the muscle is usually not affected. However, in many limb-girdle muscular dystrophies (and particularly the dystrophinopathies), enlarged calf muscles are typical. The enlargement represents true muscle hypertrophy; thus the term pseudohypertrophy should be avoided when referring to these patients. The calf muscles remain very strong even late in the course of these disorders. Muscle enlargement can also result from infiltration by sarcoid granulomas, amyloid deposits, bacterial and parasitic infections, and focal myositis. In contrast, muscle atrophy is characteristic of other myopathies. In dysferlinopathies (LGMD2B) and anoctaminopathies (LGMD2L), there is a predilection for early atrophy of the gastrocnemius muscles, particularly the medial aspect. Atrophy of the humeral muscles is characteristic of FSHD.


A limited battery of tests can be used to evaluate a suspected myopathy. Nearly all patients require serum enzyme level measurements and electrodiagnostic studies as screening tools to differentiate muscle disorders from other motor unit diseases. The other tests described—DNA studies, the forearm exercise test, and muscle biopsy—are used to diagnose specific types of myopathies.

Serum Enzymes   CK is the preferred muscle enzyme to measure in the evaluation of myopathies. Damage to muscle causes the CK to leak from the muscle fiber to the serum. The MM isoenzyme predominates in skeletal muscle, whereas creatine kinase-myocardial bound (CK-MB) is the marker for cardiac muscle. Serum CK can be elevated in normal individuals without provocation, presumably on a genetic basis or after strenuous activity, minor trauma (including the EMG needle), a prolonged muscle cramp, or a generalized seizure. Aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aldolase, and lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) are enzymes sharing an origin in both muscle and liver. Problems arise when the levels of these enzymes are found to be elevated in a routine screening battery, leading to the erroneous assumption that liver disease is present when in fact muscle could be the cause. An elevated γ-glutamyl transferase (GGT) helps to establish a liver origin because this enzyme is not found in muscle.

Electrodiagnostic Studies EMG, repetitive nerve stimulation, and nerve conduction studies (Chap. 442e) are essential methods for evaluation of the patient with suspected muscle disease. In combination, they provide the information necessary to differentiate myopathies from neuropathies and neuromuscular junction diseases. Routine nerve conduction studies are typically normal in myopathies but reduced amplitudes of compound muscle action potentials may be seen in atrophied muscles. The needle EMG may reveal irritability on needle placement suggestive of a necrotizing myopathy (inflammatory myopathies, dystrophies, toxic myopathies, myotonic myopathies), whereas a lack of irritability is characteristic of long-standing myopathic disorders (muscular dystrophies, endocrine myopathies, disuse atrophy, and many of the metabolic myopathies). In addition, the EMG may demonstrate myotonic discharges that will narrow the differential diagnosis (Table 462e-4). Another important EMG finding is the presence of short-duration, small-amplitude, polyphasic motor unit action potentials (MUAPs). Such MUAPs can be seen in both myopathic and neuropathic disorders; however, the recruitment or firing pattern is different. In myopathies, the MUAPs fire early but at a normal rate to compensate for the loss of individual muscle fibers, whereas in neurogenic disorders the MUAPs fire faster. The EMG is usually normal in steroid or disuse myopathy, both of which are associated with type 2 fiber atrophy; this is because the EMG preferentially assesses the physiologic function of type 1 fibers. The EMG can also be invaluable in helping to choose an appropriately affected muscle to sample for biopsy.

TABLE 462e-4


Myotonic dystrophy type 1

Myotonic dystrophy type 2/proximal myotonic myopathy

Myotonia congenita

Paramyotonia congenita

Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis

Chondrodystrophic myotonia (Schwartz-Jampel syndrome)

Centronuclear/myotubular myopathya


Cholesterol-lowering agents (statin medications, fibrates)



Glycogen storage disordersa (Pompe’s disease, branching enzyme deficiency, debranching enzyme deficiency)

Myofibrillar myopathies (MFM)a

aAssociated with myotonic discharges on electromyography but no clinical myotonia.

DNA Analysis This serves as an important tool for the definitive diagnosis of many muscle disorders. Nevertheless, there are a number of limitations in currently available molecular diagnostics. For example, in Duchenne and Becker dystrophies, two-thirds of patients have deletion or duplication mutations in the dystrophin gene that are easy to detect, while the remainder have point mutations that are much more difficult to find. For patients without identifiable gene defects, the muscle biopsy remains the main diagnostic tool.

Forearm Exercise Test In myopathies with intermittent symptoms, and especially those associated with myoglobinuria, there may be a defect in glycolysis. Many variations of the forearm exercise test exist. For safety, the test should not be performed under ischemic conditions to avoid an unnecessary insult to the muscle, causing rhabdomyolysis. The test is performed by placing a small indwelling catheter into an antecubital vein. A baseline blood sample is obtained for lactic acid and ammonia. The forearm muscles are exercised by asking the patient to vigorously open and close the hand for 1 min. Blood is then obtained at intervals of 1, 2, 4, 6, and 10 min for comparison with the baseline sample. A three- to fourfold rise of lactic acid is typical. The simultaneous measurement of ammonia serves as a control, because it should also rise with exercise. In patients with myophosphorylase deficiency or other glycolytic defects, the lactic acid rise will be absent or below normal, while the rise in ammonia will reach control values. If there is lack of effort, neither lactic acid nor ammonia will rise. Patients with selective failure to increase ammonia may have myoadenylate deaminase deficiency. This condition has been reported to be a cause of myoglobinuria, but deficiency of this enzyme in asymptomatic individuals makes interpretation controversial.

Muscle Biopsy   Muscle biopsy is an important step in establishing the diagnosis of a suspected myopathy. The biopsy is usually obtained from a quadriceps or biceps brachii muscle, less commonly from a deltoid muscle. Evaluation includes a combination of techniques—light microscopy, histochemistry, immunocytochemistry with a battery of antibodies, and electron microscopy. Not all techniques are needed for every case. A specific diagnosis can be established in many disorders. Endomysial inflammatory cells surrounding and invading muscle fibers are seen in polymyositis; similar endomysial infiltrates associated with muscle fibers containing rimmed vacuoles and amyloid deposits consisting of SMI-31-, p62-, and TDP-43-positive inclusions within fibers are characteristic of inclusion body myositis; and perivascular, perimysial inflammation associated with perifascicular atrophy is a feature of dermatomyositis. In addition, the congenital myopathies have distinctive light and electron microscopy features essential for diagnosis. Mitochondrial and metabolic (e.g., glycogen and lipid storage diseases) myopathies also demonstrate distinctive histochemical and electron-microscopic profiles. Biopsied muscle tissue can be sent for metabolic enzyme or mitochondrial DNA analyses. A battery of antibodies is available for the identification of abnormal proteins to help diagnose specific types of muscular dystrophies. Western blot analysis on muscle specimens can be performed to determine whether specific muscle proteins are reduced in quantity or are of abnormal size.


Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of hereditary progressive diseases each with unique phenotypic and genetic features (Tables 462e-5, 462e-6, and 462e-7).

TABLE 462e-5



TABLE 462e-6



TABLE 462e-7




This X-linked recessive disorder, sometimes also called pseudohypertrophic muscular dystrophy, has an incidence of ~1 per 5200 live-born males.

Clinical Features Duchenne dystrophy is present at birth, but the disorder usually becomes apparent between ages 3 and 5 years. The boys fall frequently and have difficulty keeping up with friends when playing. Running, jumping, and hopping are invariably abnormal. By age 5 years, muscle weakness is obvious by muscle testing. On getting up from the floor, the patient uses his hands to climb up himself (Gowers’ maneuver [Fig. 462e-4]). Contractures of the heel cords and iliotibial bands become apparent by age 6 years, when toe walking is associated with a lordotic posture. Loss of muscle strength is progressive, with predilection for proximal limb muscles and the neck flexors; leg involvement is more severe than arm involvement. Between ages 8 and 10 years, walking may require the use of braces; joint contractures and limitations of hip flexion, knee, elbow, and wrist extension are made worse by prolonged sitting. Prior to the use of glucocorticoids, most boys became wheelchair dependent by 12 years of age. Contractures become fixed, and a progressive scoliosis often develops that may be associated with pain. The chest deformity with scoliosis impairs pulmonary function, which is already diminished by muscle weakness. By age 16–18 years, patients are predisposed to serious, sometimes fatal pulmonary infections. Other causes of death include aspiration of food and acute gastric dilation.

A cardiac cause of death is uncommon despite the presence of a cardiomyopathy in almost all patients. Congestive heart failure seldom occurs except with severe stress such as pneumonia. Cardiac arrhythmias are rare. The typical electrocardiogram (ECG) shows an increased net RS in lead V1; deep, narrow Q waves in the precordial leads; and tall right precordial R waves in V1. Intellectual impairment in Duchenne dystrophy is common; the average intelligence quotient (IQ) is ~1 standard deviation (SD) below the mean. Impairment of intellectual function appears to be nonprogressive and affects verbal ability more than performance.

Laboratory Features   Serum CK levels are invariably elevated to between 20 and 100 times normal. The levels are abnormal at birth but decline late in the disease because of inactivity and loss of muscle mass. EMG demonstrates features typical of myopathy. The muscle biopsy shows muscle fibers of varying size as well as small groups of necrotic and regenerating fibers. Connective tissue and fat replace lost muscle fibers. A definitive diagnosis of Duchenne dystrophy can be established on the basis of dystrophin deficiency in a biopsy of muscle tissue or mutation analysis on peripheral blood leukocytes, as discussed below.

Duchenne dystrophy is caused by a mutation of the gene that encodes dystrophin, a 427-kDa protein localized to the inner surface of the sarcolemma of the muscle fiber. The dystrophin gene is >2000 kb in size and thus is one of the largest identified human genes. It is localized to the short arm of the × chromosome at Xp21. The most common gene mutation is a deletion. The size varies but does not correlate with disease severity. Deletions are not uniformly distributed over the gene but rather are most common near the beginning (5′ end) and middle of the gene. Less often, Duchenne dystrophy is caused by a gene duplication or point mutation. Identification of a specific mutation allows for an unequivocal diagnosis, makes possible accurate testing of potential carriers, and is useful for prenatal diagnosis.

A diagnosis of Duchenne dystrophy can also be made by Western blot analysis of muscle biopsy specimens, revealing abnormalities on the quantity and molecular weight of dystrophin protein. In addition, immunocytochemical staining of muscle with dystrophin antibodies can be used to demonstrate absence or deficiency of dystrophin localizing to the sarcolemmal membrane. Carriers of the disease may demonstrate a mosaic pattern, but dystrophin analysis of muscle biopsy specimens for carrier detection is not reliable.

Pathogenesis   Dystrophin is part of a large complex of sarcolemmal proteins and glycoproteins (Fig. 462e-6). Dystrophin binds to F-actin at its amino terminus and to β-dystroglycan at the carboxyl terminus. β-Dystroglycan complexes to α-dystroglycan, which binds to laminin in the extracellular matrix (ECM). Laminin has a heterotrimeric molecular structure arranged in the shape of a cross with one heavy chain and two light chains, β1 and γ1. The laminin heavy chain of skeletal muscle is designated laminin α2. Collagen proteins IV and VI are also found in the ECM. Like β-dystroglycan, the transmembrane sarcoglycan proteins also bind to dystrophin; these five proteins (designated α- through ε-sarcoglycan) complex tightly with each other. More recently, other membrane proteins implicated in muscular dystrophy have been found to be loosely affiliated with constituents of the dystrophin complex. These include caveolin-3, α7 integrin, and collagen VI.


FIGURE 462e-6   Selected muscular dystrophy–associated proteins in the cell membrane and Golgi complex.

Dystrophin localizes to the cytoplasmic face of the muscle cell membrane. It complexes with two transmembrane protein complexes, the dystroglycans and the sarcoglycans. The dystroglycans bind to the extracellular matrix protein merosin, which is also complexed with β1 and α7 integrins (Tables 462e-5, 462e-6, and 462e-7). Dysferlin complexes with caveolin-3 (which binds to neuronal nitric oxide synthase, or nNOS) but not with the dystrophin-associated proteins or the integrins. In some of the congenital dystrophies and limb-girdle muscular dystrophies (LGMDs), there is loss of function of different enzymes that glycosylate α-dystroglycan, which thereby inhibits proper binding to merosin: POMT1, POMT2, POMGnT1, Fukutin, Fukutin-related protein, and LARGE.

The dystrophin-glycoprotein complex appears to confer stability to the sarcolemma, although the function of each individual component of the complex is incompletely understood. Deficiency of one member of the complex may cause abnormalities in other components. For example, a primary deficiency of dystrophin (Duchenne dystrophy) may lead to secondary loss of the sarcoglycans and dystroglycan. The primary loss of a single sarcoglycan (see “Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy,” below) results in a secondary loss of other sarcoglycans in the membrane without uniformly affecting dystrophin. In either instance, disruption of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complexes weakens the sarcolemma, causing membrane tears and a cascade of events leading to muscle fiber necrosis. This sequence of events occurs repeatedly during the life of a patient with muscular dystrophy.


This less severe form of X-linked recessive muscular dystrophy results from allelic defects of the same gene responsible for Duchenne dystrophy. Becker muscular dystrophy is ~10 times less frequent than Duchenne.

Clinical Features   The pattern of muscle wasting in Becker muscular dystrophy closely resembles that seen in Duchenne. Proximal muscles, especially of the lower extremities, are prominently involved. As the disease progresses, weakness becomes more generalized. Significant facial muscle weakness is not a feature. Hypertrophy of muscles, particularly in the calves, is an early and prominent finding.

Most patients with Becker dystrophy first experience difficulties between ages 5 and 15 years, although onset in the third or fourth decade or even later can occur. By definition, patients with Becker dystrophy walk beyond age 15, whereas patients with Duchenne dystrophy are typically in a wheelchair by the age of 12. Patients with Becker dystrophy have a reduced life expectancy, but most survive into the fourth or fifth decade.

Mental retardation may occur in Becker dystrophy, but it is not as common as in Duchenne. Cardiac involvement occurs in Becker dystrophy and may result in heart failure; some patients manifest with only heart failure. Other less common presentations are asymptomatic hyper-CK-emia, myalgias without weakness, and myoglobinuria.

Laboratory Features   Serum CK levels, results of EMG, and muscle biopsy findings closely resemble those in Duchenne dystrophy. The diagnosis of Becker muscular dystrophy requires Western blot analysis of muscle biopsy samples, demonstrating a reduced amount or abnormal size of dystrophin or mutation analysis of DNA from peripheral blood leukocytes. Genetic testing reveals deletions or duplications of the dystrophin gene in 65% of patients with Becker dystrophy, approximately the same percentage as in Duchenne dystrophy. In both Becker and Duchenne dystrophies, the size of the DNA deletion does not predict clinical severity; however, in ~95% of patients with Becker dystrophy, the DNA deletion does not alter the translational reading frame of messenger RNA. These “in-frame” mutations allow for production of some dystrophin, which accounts for the presence of altered rather than absent dystrophin on Western blot analysis.


The syndrome of LGMD represents more than one disorder. Both males and females are affected, with onset ranging from late in the first decade to the fourth decade. The LGMDs typically manifest with progressive weakness of pelvic and shoulder girdle musculature. Respiratory insufficiency from weakness of the diaphragm may occur, as may cardiomyopathy.

A systematic classification of LGMD is based on autosomal dominant (LGMD1) and autosomal recessive (LGMD2) inheritance. Superimposed on the backbone of LGMD1 and LGMD2, the classification uses a sequential alphabetical lettering system (LGMD1A, LGMD2A, etc.). Disorders receive letters in the order in which they are found to have chromosomal linkage. This results in an ever-expanding list of conditions summarized in Tables 462e-6 and 462e-7. None of the conditions is as common as the dystrophinopathies; however, prevalence data for the LGMDs have not been systematically gathered for any large heterogeneous population. In referral-based clinical populations, Fukutin-related protein (FKRP) deficiency (LGMD2I), calpainopathy (LGMD2A), anoctaminopathy (LGMD2L), and to a lesser extent dysferlinopathy (LGMD2B) have emerged as the most common disorders.


There are at least five genetically distinct forms of Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy (EDMD). Emerin mutations are the most common cause of X-linked EDMD, although mutations in FHL1 may also be associated with a similar phenotype, which is X-linked as well. Mutations involving the gene for lamin A/C are the most common cause of autosomal dominant EDMD (also known as LGMD1B) and are also a common cause of hereditary cardiomyopathy. Less commonly, autosomal dominant EDMD has been reported with mutations in nesprin-1, nesprin-2, and TMEM43.

Clinical Features   Prominent contractures can be recognized in early childhood and teenage years, often preceding muscle weakness. The contractures persist throughout the course of the disease and are present at the elbows, ankles, and neck. Muscle weakness affects humeral and peroneal muscles at first and later spreads to a limb-girdle distribution. The cardiomyopathy is potentially life threatening and may result in sudden death. A spectrum of atrial rhythm and conduction defects includes atrial fibrillation and paralysis and atrioventricular heart block. Some patients have a dilated cardiomyopathy. Female carriers of the X-linked variant may have cardiac manifestations that become clinically significant.

Laboratory Features   Serum CK may be elevated two- to tenfold. EMG is myopathic. Muscle biopsy usually shows nonspecific dystrophic features, although cases associated with FHL1 mutations have features of myofibrillar myopathy. Immunohistochemistry reveals absent emerin staining of myonuclei in X-linked EDMD due to emerin mutations. ECGs demonstrate atrial and atrioventricular rhythm disturbances.

X-linked EDMD usually arises from defects in the emerin gene encoding a nuclear envelope protein. FHL1 mutations are also a cause of X-linked scapuloperoneal dystrophy, but can also present with an X-linked form of EDMD. The autosomal dominant disease can be caused by mutations in the LMNA gene encoding lamin A and C; in the synaptic nuclear envelope protein 1 (SYNE1) or 2 (SYNE2) encoding nesprin-1 and nesprin-2, respectively; and most recently in TMEM43 encoding LUMA. These proteins are essential components of the filamentous network underlying the inner nuclear membrane. Loss of structural integrity of the nuclear envelope from defects in emerin, lamin A/C, nesprin-1, nesprin-2, and LUMA accounts for overlapping phenotypes (Fig. 462e-7).


FIGURE 462e-7   Selected muscular dystrophy–associated proteins in the nuclear membrane and sarcomere. As shown in the exploded view, emerin and lamin A/C are constituents of the inner nuclear membrane. Several dystrophy-associated proteins are represented in the sarcomere including titin, nebulin, calpain, telethonin, actinin, and myotilin. The position of the dystrophin-dystroglycan complex is also illustrated.


This is not one entity but rather a group of disorders with varying degrees of muscle weakness, CNS impairment, and eye abnormalities.

Clinical Features   As a group, CMDs present at birth or in the first few months of life with hypotonia and proximal or generalized muscle weakness. Calf muscle hypertrophy is seen in some patients. Facial muscles may be weak, but other cranial nerve–innervated muscles are spared (e.g., extraocular muscles are normal). Most patients have joint contractures of varying degrees at elbows, hips, knees, and ankles. Contractures present at birth are referred to as arthrogryposis. Respiratory failure may be seen in some cases.

The CNS is affected in some forms of CMD. In merosin and FKRP deficiency, cerebral hypomyelination may be seen by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), although only a small number of patients have mental retardation and seizures. Three forms of congenital muscular dystrophy have severe brain impairment. These include Fukuyama’s congenital muscular dystrophy (FCMD), muscle-eye-brain (MEB) disease, and Walker-Warburg syndrome (WWS). Patients are severely disabled in all three of these conditions. In MEB disease and WWS, but not in FCMD, ocular abnormalities impair vision. WWS is the most severe congenital muscular dystrophy, causing death by 1 year of age.

Laboratory Features   Serum CK is markedly elevated in all of these conditions. The EMG is myopathic and muscle biopsies show nonspecific dystrophic features. Merosin, or laminin α2 chain (a basal lamina protein), is deficient in surrounding muscle fibers in merosin deficiency. Skin biopsies can also demonstrate defects in laminin α2 chain. In the other disorders (FKRP deficiency, FCMD, MEB disease, WWS), there is abnormal α-dystroglycan staining in muscle. In merosin deficiency, cerebral hypomyelination is common, and a host of brain malformations are seen in FCMD, MEB disease, and WWS.

All forms of CMD are inherited as autosomal recessive disorders. Chromosomal linkage and specific gene defects are presented in Table 462e-8. With the exception of merosin, the other gene defects affect posttranslational glycosylation of α-dystroglycan. This abnormality is thought to impair binding with merosin and leads to weakening of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex, instability of the muscle membrane, and/or abnormalities in muscle contraction. CMDs with brain and eye phenotypes probably involve defective glycosylation of additional proteins, accounting for the more extensive phenotypes.

TABLE 462e-8




Myotonic dystrophy is also known as dystrophia myotonica (DM). The condition is composed of at least two clinical disorders with overlapping phenotypes and distinct molecular genetic defects: myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1), the classic disease originally described by Steinert, and myotonic dystrophy type 2 (DM2), also called proximal myotonic myopathy (PROMM).

Clinical Features The clinical expression of DM1 varies widely and involves many systems other than muscle. Affected patients have a typical “hatchet-faced” appearance due to temporalis, masseter, and facial muscle atrophy and weakness. Frontal baldness is also characteristic of the disease. Neck muscles, including flexors and sternocleidomastoids, and distal limb muscles are involved early. Weakness of wrist extensors, finger extensors, and intrinsic hand muscles impairs function. Ankle dorsiflexor weakness may cause footdrop. Proximal muscles remain stronger throughout the course, although preferential atrophy and weakness of quadriceps muscles occur in many patients. Palatal, pharyngeal, and tongue involvement produce a dysarthric speech, nasal voice, and swallowing problems. Some patients have diaphragm and intercostal muscle weakness, resulting in respiratory insufficiency.

Myotonia, which usually appears by age 5 years, is demonstrable by percussion of the thenar eminence, the tongue, and wrist extensor muscles. Myotonia causes a slow relaxation of hand grip after a forced voluntary closure. Advanced muscle wasting makes myotonia more difficult to detect.

Cardiac disturbances occur commonly in patients with DM1. ECG abnormalities include first-degree heart block and more extensive conduction system involvement. Complete heart block and sudden death can occur. Congestive heart failure occurs infrequently but may result from cor pulmonale secondary to respiratory failure. Mitral valve prolapse also occurs commonly. Other associated features include intellectual impairment, hypersomnia, posterior subcapsular cataracts, gonadal atrophy, insulin resistance, and decreased esophageal and colonic motility.

Congenital myotonic dystrophy is a more severe form of DM1 and occurs in ~25% of infants of affected mothers. It is characterized by severe facial and bulbar weakness, transient neonatal respiratory insufficiency, and mental retardation.

DM2, or PROMM, has a distinct pattern of muscle weakness affecting mainly proximal muscles. Other features of the disease overlap with DM1, including cataracts, testicular atrophy, insulin resistance, constipation, hypersomnia, and cognitive defects. Cardiac conduction defects occur but are less common, and the hatchet face and frontal baldness are less consistent features. A very striking difference is the failure to clearly identify a congenital form of DM2.

Laboratory Features   The diagnosis of myotonic dystrophy can usually be made on the basis of clinical findings. Serum CK levels may be normal or mildly elevated. EMG evidence of myotonia is present in most cases of DM1 but may be more patchy in DM2. Muscle biopsy shows muscle atrophy, which selectively involves type 1 fibers in 50% of cases, and ringed fibers in DM1 but not in DM2. Typically, numerous internalized nuclei can be seen in individual muscle fibers as well as atrophic fibers with pyknotic nuclear clumps in both DM1 and DM2. Necrosis of muscle fibers and increased connective tissue, common in other muscular dystrophies, are less apparent in myotonic dystrophy.

DM1 and DM2 are both autosomal dominant disorders. New mutations do not appear to contribute to the pool of affected individuals. DM1 is transmitted by an intronic mutation consisting of an unstable expansion of a CTG trinucleotide repeat in a serine-threonine protein kinase gene (named DMPK) on chromosome 19q13.3. An increase in the severity of the disease phenotype in successive generations (genetic anticipation) is accompanied by an increase in the number of trinucleotide repeats. A similar type of mutation has been identified in fragile × syndrome (Chap. 451e). The unstable triplet repeat in myotonic dystrophy can be used for prenatal diagnosis. Congenital disease occurs almost exclusively in infants born to affected mothers; it is possible that sperm with greatly expanded triplet repeats do not function well.

DM2 is caused by a DNA expansion mutation consisting of a CCTG repeat in intron 1 of the ZNF9 gene located at chromosome 3q13.3-q24. The gene is believed to encode an RNA-binding protein expressed in many different tissues, including skeletal and cardiac muscle.

The DNA expansions in DM1 and DM2 almost certainly impair muscle function by a toxic gain of function of the mutant mRNA. In both DM1 and DM2, the mutant RNA appears to form intranuclear inclusions composed of aberrant RNA. These RNA inclusions sequester RNA-binding proteins essential for proper splicing of a variety of other mRNAs. This leads to abnormal transcription of multiple proteins in a variety of tissues/organ systems, in turn causing the systemic manifestations of DM1 and DM2.


This form of muscular dystrophy has a prevalence of ~1 in 20,000. There are two forms of FSHD that have similar pathogenesis, as will be discussed. Most patients have FSHD type 1 (95%), whereas approximately 5% have FSHD2. FSHD1 and FSHD2 are clinically and histopathologically identical. FSHD is not to be confused with the genetically distinct scapuloperoneal dystrophies.

Clinical Features   The condition typically has an onset in childhood or young adulthood. In most cases, facial weakness is the initial manifestation, appearing as an inability to smile, whistle, or fully close the eyes. Weakness of the shoulder girdles, rather than the facial muscles, usually brings the patient to medical attention. Loss of scapular stabilizer muscles makes arm elevation difficult. Scapular winging (Fig. 462e-3) becomes apparent with attempts at abduction and forward movement of the arms. Biceps and triceps muscles may be severely affected, with relative sparing of the deltoid muscles. Weakness is invariably worse for wrist extension than for wrist flexion, and weakness of the anterior compartment muscles of the legs may lead to footdrop.

In most patients, the weakness remains restricted to facial, upper extremity, and distal lower extremity muscles. In 20% of patients, weakness progresses to involve the pelvic girdle muscles, and severe functional impairment and possible wheelchair dependency result.

Characteristically, patients with FSHD do not have involvement of other organ systems, although labile hypertension is common, and there is an increased incidence of nerve deafness. Coats’ disease, a disorder consisting of telangiectasia, exudation, and retinal detachment, also occurs.

Laboratory Features   The serum CK level may be normal or mildly elevated. EMG usually indicates a myopathic pattern. The muscle biopsy shows nonspecific features of a myopathy. A prominent inflammatory infiltrate, which is often multifocal in distribution, is present in some biopsy samples. The cause or significance of this finding is unknown.

An autosomal dominant inheritance pattern with almost complete penetrance has been established, but each family member should be examined for the presence of the disease, since ~30% of those affected are unaware of involvement. FSHD1 is associated with deletions of tandem 3.3-kb repeats at 4q35. The deletion reduces the number of repeats to a fragment of <35 kb in most patients. Within these repeats lies the DUX4 gene, which usually is not expressed. In patients with FSHD1 these deletions in the setting of a specific polymorphism leads to hypomethylation of the region and toxic expression of the DUX4 gene. In patients with FSHD2, there is no deletion, but a mutation in SMCHD1. Interestingly, in the setting of the same polymorphism, there again is seen hypomethylation of the region and the permissive expression of the DUX4 gene. In both FSHD1 and FSHD2, there is overexpression of the DUX4 transcript.


This form of muscular dystrophy represents one of several disorders characterized by progressive external ophthalmoplegia, which consists of slowly progressive ptosis and limitation of eye movements with sparing of pupillary reactions for light and accommodation. Patients usually do not complain of diplopia, in contrast to patients having conditions with a more acute onset of ocular muscle weakness (e.g., myasthenia gravis).

Clinical Features   Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy has a late onset; it usually presents in the fourth to sixth decade with ptosis and/or dysphagia. The extraocular muscle impairment is less prominent in the early phase but may be severe later. The swallowing problem may become debilitating and result in pooling of secretions and repeated episodes of aspiration. Mild weakness of the neck and extremities also occurs.

Laboratory Features   The serum CK level may be two to three times normal. Myopathic EMG findings are typical. On biopsy, muscle fibers are found to contain rimmed vacuoles, which by electron microscopy are shown to contain membranous whorls, accumulation of glycogen, and other nonspecific debris related to lysosomes. A distinct feature of oculopharyngeal dystrophy is the presence of tubular filaments, 8.5 nm in diameter, in muscle cell nuclei.

Oculopharyngeal dystrophy has an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern with complete penetrance. The incidence is high in French-Canadians and in Spanish-American families of the southwestern United States. Large kindreds of Italian and of eastern European Jewish descent have been reported. The molecular defect in oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy is a subtle expansion of a modest polyalanine repeat tract in a poly-RNA-binding protein (PABP2) in muscle.


A group of muscle diseases, the distal myopathies, are notable for their preferential distal distribution of muscle weakness in contrast to most muscle conditions associated with proximal weakness. The major distal myopathies are summarized in Table 462e-9.

TABLE 462e-9



Clinical Features Welander’s, Udd’s, and Markesbery-Griggs type distal myopathies are all late-onset, dominantly inherited disorders of distal limb muscles, usually beginning after age 40 years. Welander’s distal myopathy preferentially involves the wrist and finger extensors, whereas the others are associated with anterior tibial weakness leading to progressive footdrop. Laing’s distal myopathy is also a dominantly inherited disorder heralded by tibial weakness; however, it is distinguished by onset in childhood or early adult life. Nonaka’s distal myopathy and Miyoshi’s myopathy are distinguished by autosomal recessive inheritance and onset in the late teens or twenties. Nonaka’s and Williams’ myopathy entails anterior tibial weakness, whereas Miyoshi’s myopathy is unique in that gastrocnemius muscles are preferentially affected at onset. Finally, the myofibrillar myopathies (MFMs) are a clinically and genetically heterogeneous group of disorders that can be associated with prominent distal weakness; they can be inherited in an autosomal dominant or recessive pattern. Of note, Markesbery-Griggs myopathy (caused by mutations in ZASP) and LGMD1B (caused by mutations in myotilin) are in fact subtypes of myofibrillar myopathy.

Laboratory Features   Serum CK level is particularly helpful in diagnosing Miyoshi’s myopathy because it is very elevated. In the other conditions, serum CK is only slightly increased. EMGs are myopathic. In the MFMs, myotonic or pseudomyotonic discharges are common. Muscle biopsy shows nonspecific dystrophic features and, with the exception of Laing’s and Miyoshi’s myopathies, often shows rimmed vacuoles. MFM is associated with the accumulation of dense inclusions, as well as amorphous material best seen on Gomori trichrome and myofibrillar disruption on electron microscopy. Immune staining sometimes demonstrates accumulation of desmin and other proteins in MFM, large deposits of myosin heavy chain in the subsarcolemmal region of type 1 muscle fibers in Laing’s myopathy, and reduced or absent dysferlin in Miyoshi’s myopathy.

The affected genes and their gene products are listed in Table 462e-9.


These rare disorders are distinguished from muscular dystrophies by the presence of specific histochemical and structural abnormalities in muscle. Although primarily disorders of infancy or childhood, three forms that may present in adulthood are described here: central core disease, nemaline (rod) myopathy, and centronuclear (myotubular) myopathy. Sarcotubular myopathy is caused by mutations in TRIM-32 and is identical to LGMD2H. Other types, such as minicore myopathy (multi-minicore disease), fingerprint body myopathy, and cap myopathy, are not discussed.


Patients with central core disease may have decreased fetal movements and breech presentation. Hypotonia and delay in motor milestones, particularly in walking, are common. Later in childhood, patients develop problems with stair climbing, running, and getting up from the floor. On examination, there is mild facial, neck-flexor, and proximal-extremity muscle weakness. Legs are more affected than arms. Skeletal abnormalities include congenital hip dislocation, scoliosis, and pes cavus; clubbed feet also occur. Most cases are nonprogressive, but exceptions are well documented. Susceptibility to malignant hyperthermia must be considered as a potential risk factor for patients with central core disease. Recent series have demonstrated that many cases of late-onset axial myopathy in which patients manifest with bent spine (camptocormia) or neck extensor weakness (neck extensor myopathy) are caused by mutations in the ryanodine receptor gene (RYR1). This illustrates the interesting spectrum of RYR1 mutations.

The serum CK level is usually normal. Needle EMG demonstrates a myopathic pattern. Muscle biopsy shows fibers with single or multiple central or eccentric discrete zones (cores) devoid of oxidative enzymes. Cores occur preferentially in type 1 fibers and represent poorly aligned sarcomeres associated with Z disk streaming.

Autosomal dominant inheritance is characteristic; sporadic cases also occur. As alluded above, this myopathy is caused by point mutations of RYR1, encoding the calcium-release channel of the sarcoplasmic reticulum of skeletal muscle; mutations of this gene also account for some cases of inherited malignant hyperthermia (Chap. 23). Malignant hyperthermia is an allelic condition; C-terminal mutations of the RYR1 gene predispose to this complication.

Specific treatment is not required, but establishing a diagnosis of central core disease is extremely important because these patients have a known predisposition to malignant hyperthermia during anesthesia.


The term nemaline refers to the distinctive presence in muscle fibers of rods or threadlike structures (Greek nema, “thread”). Nemaline myopathy is clinically heterogeneous. A severe neonatal form presents with hypotonia and feeding and respiratory difficulties, leading to early death. Nemaline myopathy usually presents in infancy or childhood with delayed motor milestones. The course is nonprogressive or slowly progressive. The physical appearance is striking because of the long, narrow facies, high-arched palate, and open-mouthed appearance due to a prognathous jaw. Other skeletal abnormalities include pectus excavatum, kyphoscoliosis, pes cavus, and clubfoot deformities. Facial and generalized muscle weakness, including respiratory muscle weakness, is common. An adult-onset disorder with progressive proximal or distal weakness may be seen. Myocardial involvement is occasionally present in both the childhood and adult-onset forms. The serum CK level is usually normal or slightly elevated. The EMG demonstrates a myopathic pattern. Muscle biopsy shows clusters of small rods (nemaline bodies), which occur preferentially, but not exclusively, in the sarcoplasm of type 1 muscle fibers. Occasionally, the rods are also apparent in myonuclei. The muscle often shows type 1 muscle fiber predominance. Rods originate from the Z disk material of the muscle fiber.

Six genes have been associated with nemaline myopathy. Five of these code for thin filament–associated proteins, suggesting disturbed assembly or interplay of these structures as a pivotal mechanism. Mutations of the nebulin (NEB) gene account for most cases, including both severe neonatal and early childhood forms, inherited as autosomal recessive disorders. Neonatal and childhood cases, inherited as predominantly autosomal dominant disorders, are caused by mutations of the skeletal muscle a-actinin (ACTA1) gene. In milder forms of the disease with autosomal dominant inheritance, mutations have been identified in both the slow a-tropomyosin (TPM3) and β;-tropomyosin (TPM2) genes accounting for <3% of cases. Muscle troponin T (TNNT1) gene mutations appear to be limited to the Amish population in North America. Mutations may also be seen in NEM6 that encodes a putative BTB/Kelch protein. No specific treatment is available.


Three distinct variants of centronuclear myopathy occur. A neonatal form, also known as myotubular myopathy, presents with severe hypotonia and weakness at birth. The late infancy–early childhood form presents with delayed motor milestones. Later, difficulty with running and stair climbing becomes apparent. A marfanoid, slender body habitus, long narrow face, and high-arched palate are typical. Scoliosis and clubbed feet may be present. Most patients exhibit progressive weakness, some requiring wheelchairs. Progressive external ophthalmoplegia with ptosis and varying degrees of extraocular muscle impairment are characteristic of both the neonatal and the late-infantile forms. A third variant, the late childhood–adult form, has an onset in the second or third decade. Patients have full extraocular muscle movements and rarely exhibit ptosis. There is mild, slowly progressive limb weakness that may be distally predominant (some of these patients have been classified as having Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2 [CMT2; Chap. 459]).

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