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Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 May;81(5):953-63.

Aging muscle.

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  • 1Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Endocrine Research, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.


Age causes structural and functional changes in skeletal muscle in a wide range of species, including humans. Muscle changes in humans start in the fourth decade of life and cause frailty and disabilities. Associated changes in body composition form the basis of many metabolic disorders, such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, which result in an increased incidence of cardiovascular death. Decreases in the synthesis rates of many muscle proteins, specifically of myosin heavy chain and mitochondrial proteins, occur with age. The underlying causes of the reduction in mitochondrial biogenesis and ATP production seem to be decreases in mitochondrial DNA and messenger RNA. Reduced ATP production could be the basis of reduced muscle protein turnover, which requires energy. Both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise enhance muscle protein synthesis and mitochondrial biogenesis. Insulin and amino acids have also been shown to enhance muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and mitochondrial protein synthesis. However, the insulin-induced increase in muscle mitochondrial ATP production is defective in type 2 diabetic patients with insulin resistance. Moreover, a dissociation between increases in muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and insulin sensitivity after exercise has been noted in older persons. It remains to be determined whether muscle mitochondrial dysfunction causes or results from insulin resistance. Exercise seems to enhance the efficiency of muscle mitochondrial DNA in rodents. Reduced physical activity as a contributor of age-related mitochondrial dysfunction remains to be determined. It is proposed that a reduction in tissue mitochondrial ATP production signals the hypothalamic centers to reduce spontaneous physical activities. Voluntary physical activity is regulated by cognitive centers and could attenuate the progressive decline in mitochondrial functions that occurs with age.

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