Invited review: Mesenchymal progenitor cells in intramuscular connective tissue development

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© The Animal Consortium 2015. The abundance and cross-linking of intramuscular connective tissue contributes to the background toughness of meat, and is thus undesirable. Connective tissue is mainly synthesized by intramuscular fibroblasts. Myocytes, adipocytes and fibroblasts are derived from a common pool of progenitor cells during the early embryonic development. It appears that multipotent mesenchymal stem cells first diverge into either myogenic or non-myogenic lineages; non-myogenic mesenchymal progenitors then develop into the stromal-vascular fraction of skeletal muscle wherein adipocytes, fibroblasts and derived mesenchymal progenitors reside. Because non-myogenic mesenchymal progenitors mainly undergo adipogenic or fibrogenic differentiation during muscle development, strengthening progenitor proliferation enhances the potential for both intramuscular adipogenesis and fibrogenesis, leading to the elevation of both marbling and connective tissue content in the resulting meat product. Furthermore, given the bipotent developmental potential of progenitor cells, enhancing their conversion to adipogenesis reduces fibrogenesis, which likely results in the overall improvement of marbling (more intramuscular adipocytes) and tenderness (less connective tissue) of meat. Fibrogenesis is mainly regulated by the transforming growth factor (TGF) β signaling pathway and its regulatory cascade. In addition, extracellular matrix, a part of the intramuscular connective tissue, provides a niche environment for regulating myogenic differentiation of satellite cells and muscle growth. Despite rapid progress, many questions remain in the role of extracellular matrix on muscle development, and factors determining the early differentiation of myogenic, adipogenic and fibrogenic cells, which warrant further studies.

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