MyoD is a protein that plays a major role in regulating muscle differentiation. MyoD, which was discovered in the laboratory of Harold M. Weintraub, belongs to a family of proteins known as myogenic regulatory factors (MRFs). These bHLH (basic helix loop helix) transcription factors act sequentially in myogenic differentiation. MRF family members include MyoD, Myf5, myogenin, and MRF4 (Myf6).
MyoD is one of the earliest markers of myogenic commitment. MyoD is expressed at extremely low and essentially undetectable levels in quiescent satellite cells, but expression of MyoD is activated in response to exercise or muscle tissue damage. The effect of MyoD on satellite cells is dose-dependent; high MyoD expression represses cell renewal, promotes terminal differentiation and can induce apoptosis. Although MyoD marks myoblast commitment, muscle development is not dramatically ablated in mouse mutants lacking the MyoD gene. This is likely due to functional redundancy from Myf5 and/or Mrf4. Nevertheless, the combination of MyoD and Myf5 is vital to the success of myogenesis.