Statin administration activates system xC− in skeletal muscle: a potential mechanism explaining statin-induced muscle pain Academic Article uri icon

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  • Statins are a cholesterol-lowering drug class that significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Despite their safety and effectiveness, musculoskeletal side-effects, particularly myalgia, are prominent and the most common reason for discontinuance. The cause of statin-induced myalgia is unknown, so defining the underlying mechanism(s) and potential therapeutic strategies is of clinical importance. Here we tested the hypothesis that statin administration activates skeletal muscle system xC, a cystine/glutamate antiporter, to increase intracellular cysteine and therefore glutathione synthesis to attenuate statin-induced oxidative stress. Increased system xC activity would increase interstitial glutamate; an amino acid associated with peripheral nociception. Consistent with our hypothesis, atorvastatin treatment significantly increased mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS; 41%) and glutamate efflux (up to 122%) in C2C12 mouse skeletal muscle myotubes. Statin-induced glutamate efflux was confirmed to be the result of system xC activation, as cotreatment with sulfasalazine (system xC inhibitor) negated this rise in extracellular glutamate. These findings were reproduced in primary human myotubes but, consistent with being muscle-specific, were not observed in primary human dermal fibroblasts. To further demonstrate that statin-induced increases in ROS triggered glutamate efflux, C2C12 myotubes were cotreated with atorvastatin and various antioxidants. α-Tocopherol and cysteamine bitartrate reversed the increase in statin-induced glutamate efflux, bringing glutamate levels between 50 and 92% of control-treated levels. N-acetylcysteine (a system xC substrate) increased glutamate efflux above statin treatment alone: up to 732% greater than control treatment. Taken together, we provide a mechanistic foundation for statin-induced myalgia and offer therapeutic insights to alleviate this particular statin-associated side-effect.


  • Rebalka, Irena A
  • Cao, Andrew W
  • May, Linda L
  • Tarnopolsky, Mark A
  • Hawke, Thomas

publication date

  • November 1, 2019