Desmin body myofibrillar myopathy

Jean K Mah MD (

Dr. Mah of the University of Calgary has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Harvey B Sarnat MD FRCPC MS, editor. (

Dr. Sarnat of the University of Calgary has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

Originally released November 30, 1996; last updated July 7, 2019; expires July 7, 2022

This article includes discussion of desmin body myofibrillar myopathy, chronic noninflammatory myopathy, and cytoplasmic body myopathy. The foregoing terms may include synonyms, similar disorders, variations in usage, and abbreviations.


Myofibrillar myopathies refer to a heterogeneous group of genetic disorders associated with disintegration of myofibrils and accumulation of Z-disc related proteins, with variable age of onset and disease progression. Typically, patients present with lower limb muscle weakness, which slowly spreads to involve truncal, neck-flexor, facial, bulbar, and respiratory muscles. Distribution of the weakness may be distal or both proximal and distal. Skeletal myopathy may be combined with or preceded by cardiomyopathy, conduction blocks, and arrhythmias that can result sudden death. Respiratory muscle weakness can also be a major complication in some patients. In this updated article, the author highlights advance in the diagnosis and management of myofibrillar myopathies.

Key points


• Myofibrillar myopathies are a subgroup of hereditary protein aggregate myopathies.


• Muscle biopsy reveals characteristic amorphous or granular material, with focal areas of myofibrillar disintegration, reduced oxidative enzyme activity, and vacuolar changes.


• The clinical phenotype is highly variable; most commonly it presents as a distal myopathy involving the hands and feet, with progressive muscle weakness, respiratory dysfunction, and cardiomyopathy.


• Treatment remains primarily supportive; those with significant cardiac complications may require pacemaker implantation or cardiac transplant.

Historical note and terminology

Myofibrillar myopathies refer to a heterogeneous group of rare inherited primary chronic noninflammatory myopathies characterized by pathological abnormal accumulation of cytoplasmic inclusion bodies and myofibrillar disarray in skeletal or cardiac muscles (Goebel 2011; Béhin et al 2015; Fichna et al 2018). The disease was originally described more than 30 years ago based on common muscle histopathological features (Goebel 1995). The onset usually occurs in adult life (between the second and fourth decade) but may be congenital or present in early childhood. A combination of distal and proximal weakness, cardiomyopathy, peripheral neuropathy, and autosomal dominant inheritance should suggest this disorder (Nakano et al 1996). However, these symptoms may be sporadic, and autosomal recessive or X-linked inheritance has also been described (Feldkirschner et al 2013; Schessl et al 2014).

The first description of cytoplasmic body as a structural anomaly of the Z-disc was in 1969 (MacDonald and Engel 1969). Cytoplasmic bodies occur in a number of unrelated neuromuscular disorders, but their relationship to desmin-related neuromuscular diseases was only recognized in the 1980s (Edstrom et al 1980; Stoeckel et al 1981; Osborn and Goebel 1983).

A report of a sporadic adult-onset myopathy describing spheroid inclusions on the basis of the ultrastructural findings and the formation of the inclusions in muscle fibers was postulated (Nakashima et al 1970). Other early reports of sporadic cases include postmortem findings of cytoplasmic bodies and myofibrillar aggregates (Kinoshita et al 1975; Jerusalem et al 1979). Autosomal dominant inheritance was described in 4 successive generations with a benign proximal myopathy of adolescent onset with spheroid bodies (Goebel et al 1978) or granulofilamentous inclusions (Fardeau et al 1978). Similarly, a late-onset myopathy showed myofibrillar inclusions in all 3 symptomatic and in 4 of the 7 asymptomatic family members (Clark et al 1978). Intermediate filaments were identified in association with sarcoplasmic bodies in a severe progressive late-onset autosomal dominant distal myopathy, with patients becoming wheelchair-bound within 10 years (Edstrom et al 1980). Sixteen patients representing 7 different pedigrees with an adult-onset limb-girdle myopathy (Edstrom et al 1990) and 16 family members with a distal myopathy were described (Horowitz and Schmalbruch 1994). A cardiomyopathy found in 3 brothers showed large proteinaceous inclusions in the cardiac muscle consisting of intermediate filaments (Porte et al 1980) that were immunofluorescent desmin-positive (Stoeckel et al 1981). Desmin body myofibrillar myopathy can also present as a congenital myopathy (Goebel et al 1981; Wolburg et al 1982) with or without a cardiomyopathy (Calderon et al 1987). The cardiomyopathy can precede the myopathy (Calderon et al 1987; Goebel et al 1994).

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