This study evaluates white muscle growth and in vivo cell proliferation during a fasting and refeeding trial, using pejerrey (Odontesthes bonariensis) as animal model, in order to better understand the cellular basis governing catch-up growth. Experiments consisted of two groups of fish, a control group continuously fed ad libitum, and a group fasted for 2 weeks and then fed for another 2 weeks. We examined how the formation of new muscle fibers and their increase in size were related to muscle precursor cell (MPC) proliferation under both experimental conditions. During fasting, the number of 5-ethynyl-2′-deoxyuridine-positive (EdU+) cells decreased along with myogenic regulatory factor (MRF) mRNA levels related to myoblast proliferation and differentiation, and the muscle stem cell marker Pax7 mRNA level increased. Analysis of myomere cross-sectional area, distribution of muscle fiber sizes and number of fibers per myomere showed that muscle hypertrophy but not hyperplasia was inhibited during fasting. Both higher igf2 mRNA level and the persistence of cell proliferation could be supporting new myofiber formation. In contrast, an exacerbated MPC proliferation occurred during catch-up growth, and this increase in cell number could be contributing to the growth of both pre-existing and newly formed small fibers. The findings that some MPCs proliferate during fasting and that muscle growth mechanisms, hyperplasia and hypertrophy are differentially regulated could help to explain why re-fed fish could grow at faster rates, and why they return to the lost growth trajectory.

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