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In developed countries one of the most commonly prescribed medications are statins. A class of cholesterol lowering drugs that includes: Lipitor, Zocor, Pavacol, and Mevacor.

The most common side effects of statin drugs is muscle pain and weakness. At the most extreme rhabdomyolysis occurs—severe breakdown of skeletal muscles. At the other end of the spectrum is ‘grumbling muscles,’ which is milder and a more diffused muscle soreness and cramps.

Researchers Lecker, PhD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) first identified gene atrogin-1 as having a role in muscle atrophy 5-years ago. The researchers thought that cholesterol lowering statins might also be “switching on” the gene atrogin-1. Devising a series of experiments the researchers found that indeed atrogin-1 has a fundamental role in statin-induced toxicity.

Future studies will be needed to understand how the statins activate the atrogin-1 gene. The researchers hope their discovery will help with other muscle wasting diseases like cancer, AIDS, kidney disease, and underused muscles due to injury or lack of exercise