Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is an X-linked dystrophin-minus muscle-wasting disease. Ion homeostasis in skeletal muscle fibers underperforms as DMD progresses. But though DMD renders these excitable cells intolerant of exertion, sodium overloaded, depolarized, and spontaneously contractile, they can survive for several decades. We show computationally that underpinning this longevity is a strikingly frugal, robust Pump-Leak/Donnan (P-L/D) ion homeostatic process. Unlike neurons, which operate with a costly “Pump-Leak–dominated” ion homeostatic steady state, skeletal muscle fibers operate with a low-cost “Donnan-dominated” ion homeostatic steady state that combines a large chloride permeability with an exceptionally small sodium permeability. Simultaneously, this combination keeps fiber excitability low and minimizes pump expenditures. As mechanically active, long-lived multinucleate cells, skeletal muscle fibers have evolved to handle overexertion, sarcolemmal tears, ischemic bouts, etc.; the frugality of their Donnan dominated steady state lets them maintain the outsized pump reserves that make them resilient during these inevitable transient emergencies. Here, P-L/D model variants challenged with DMD-type insult/injury (low pump-strength, overstimulation, leaky Nav and cation channels) show how chronic “nonosmotic” sodium overload (observed in DMD patients) develops. Profoundly severe DMD ion homeostatic insult/injury causes spontaneous firing (and, consequently, unwanted excitation–contraction coupling) that elicits cytotoxic swelling. Therefore, boosting operational pump-strength and/or diminishing sodium and cation channel leaks should help extend DMD fiber longevity.

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