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Live cell imaging reveals marked variability in myoblast proliferation and fate

Sean M Gross and Peter Rotwein*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oregon Health & Science University, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR, 97239-3098, USA

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Skeletal Muscle 2013, 3:10  doi:10.1186/2044-5040-3-10

Published: 2 May 2013



During the process of muscle regeneration, activated stem cells termed satellite cells proliferate, and then differentiate to form new myofibers that restore the injured area. Yet not all satellite cells contribute to muscle repair. Some continue to proliferate, others die, and others become quiescent and are available for regeneration following subsequent injury. The mechanisms that regulate the adoption of different cell fates in a muscle cell precursor population remain unclear.


We have used live cell imaging and lineage tracing to study cell fate in the C2 myoblast line.


Analyzing the behavior of individual myoblasts revealed marked variability in both cell cycle duration and viability, but similarities between cells derived from the same parental lineage. As a consequence, lineage sizes and outcomes differed dramatically, and individual lineages made uneven contributions toward the terminally differentiated population. Thus, the cohort of myoblasts undergoing differentiation at the end of an experiment differed dramatically from the lineages present at the beginning. Treatment with IGF-I increased myoblast number by maintaining viability and by stimulating a fraction of cells to complete one additional cell cycle in differentiation medium, and as a consequence reduced the variability of the terminal population compared with controls.


Our results reveal that heterogeneity of responses to external cues is an intrinsic property of cultured myoblasts that may be explained in part by parental lineage, and demonstrate the power of live cell imaging for understanding how muscle differentiation is regulated.

Live cell imaging; Single cell analysis; Cell death; Insulin-like growth factors