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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Sep;101(3):906-17. Epub 2006 May 11.

Aging, muscle fiber type, and contractile function in sprint-trained athletes.

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Dept. of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35, FI-40014 Jyväskylä, Finland.


Biopsy samples were taken from the vastus lateralis of 18- to 84-yr-old male sprinters (n = 91). Fiber-type distribution, cross-sectional area, and myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform content were identified using ATPase histochemistry and SDS-PAGE. Specific tension and maximum shortening velocity (V(o)) were determined in 144 single skinned fibers from younger (18-33 yr, n = 8) and older (53-77 yr, n = 9) runners. Force-time characteristics of the knee extensors were determined by using isometric contraction. The cross-sectional area of type I fibers was unchanged with age, whereas that of type II fibers was reduced (P < 0.001). With age there was an increased MHC I (P < 0.01) and reduced MHC IIx isoform content (P < 0.05) but no differences in MHC IIa. Specific tension of type I and IIa MHC fibers did not differ between younger and older subjects. V(o) of fibers expressing type I MHC was lower (P < 0.05) in older than in younger subjects, but there was no difference in V(o) of type IIa MHC fibers. An aging-related decline of maximal isometric force (P < 0.001) and normalized rate of force development (P < 0.05) of knee extensors was observed. Normalized rate of force development was positively associated with MHC II (P < 0.05). The sprint-trained athletes experienced the typical aging-related reduction in the size of fast fibers, a shift toward a slower MHC isoform profile, and a lower V(o) of type I MHC fibers, which played a role in the decline in explosive force production. However, the muscle characteristics were preserved at a high level in the oldest runners, underlining the favorable impact of sprint exercise on aging muscle.

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