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J Physiol. 2003 Oct 1;552(Pt 1):47-58. Epub 2003 Jul 1.

Single muscle fibre contractile properties in young and old men and women.

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Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306, USA.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether there was an age-related decline in the isometric and isotonic contractile function of permeabilized slow (MHC I) and fast (MHC IIa) single muscle fibres. Vastus lateralis muscle fibres from six young men (YM; 25 +/- 1 years), six young women (YW; 25 +/- 1 years), six old men (OM; 80 +/- 4 years) and six old women (OW; 78 +/- 2 years) were studied at 15 degrees C for in vitro force-velocity properties, peak force and contractile velocity. Peak power was 23-28 % lower (P < 0.05) in MHC I fibres of YW compared to the other three groups. MHC IIa peak power was 25-40 % lower (P < 0.05) in OW compared to the other three groups. No difference was found in MHC I and IIa normalized peak power among any of the groups. Peak force was lower (P < 0.05) in the YW (MHC I fibres) and OW (MHC IIa fibres) compared to the other groups. Differences in peak force with ageing were negated when normalized to cell size. No age-related differences were observed in single fibre contractile velocity of MHC I and IIa fibres. These data show that YW (MHC I) and OW (MHC IIa) have lower single fibre absolute peak power and peak force compared to men; however, these differences are negated when normalized to cell size. General muscle protein concentrations (i.e. total, sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar) from the same biopsies were lower (4-9 %, P < 0.05) in the OM and OW. However, myosin and actin concentrations were not different (P > 0.05) among the four groups. These data suggest that differences in whole muscle strength and function that are often observed with ageing appear to be regulated by quantitative rather than qualitative parameters of single muscle fibre contractile function.

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