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Mech Ageing Dev. 1991 Oct;60(2):199-213.

Skeletal muscle atrophy in old rats: differential changes in the three fiber types.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110.


This study was undertaken to reevaluate the effects of ageing on skeletal muscle mass and on mitochondrial and glycolytic enzyme levels in the different types of skeletal muscle in rats. It was found that some muscles atrophy with ageing, while others do not, in male rats. Atrophy appears to occur in weight-bearing muscles, and is most marked in those with a high proportion of type IIb fibers. The muscles that did not atrophy are non-weight-bearing, and include the epitrochlearis (predominantly type IIb fibers) and the adductor longus (predominantly type I fibers). The average cross-sectional area of muscle fibers in the plantaris muscles of 28-30-month-old rats was approximately 30% smaller than that of 9-10-month-old animals, providing evidence that the approximately 30% lower weight of the plantaris in the old group was entirely due to fiber atrophy. The proportion of type IIa fibers was decreased and the proportion of type I fibers was increased in the plantaris of the old rats. The respiratory capacity of the soleus muscle (predominantly type I fibers), and the glycolytic capacity of the superficial, white (type IIb) and deep, red (predominantly type IIa) portions of the vastus lateralis, were reduced in the old rats. Our results provide evidence that ageing has differential effects on the three types of skeletal muscle fiber, and on weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing muscles, in the rat.

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