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Exp Gerontol. 2011 Aug;46(8):660-9. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2011.03.005. Epub 2011 Apr 12.

Accumulation of severely atrophic myofibers marks the acceleration of sarcopenia in slow and fast twitch muscles.

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Muscle & Aging Laboratory, Faculty of Kinesiology and Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada.


The age-related decline in muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, exhibits a marked acceleration in advanced age. Although many studies have remarked upon the accumulation of very small myofibers, particularly at advanced stages of sarcopenia, the significance of this phenomenon in the acceleration of sarcopenia has never been examined. Furthermore, although mitochondrial dysfunction characterized by a lack of cytochrome oxidase (COX) activity has been implicated in myofiber atrophy in sarcopenia, the contribution of this phenotype to the accumulation of severely atrophied fibers in aged muscles has never been determined. To this end, we examined the fiber size distribution in the slow twitch soleus (Sol) and fast twitch gastrocnemius (Gas) muscles between young adulthood (YA) and senescence (SEN). We also quantified the abundance of COX deficient myocytes and their size attributes to gain insight into the contribution of this phenotype to myofiber atrophy with aging. Our data showed that the progression of muscle atrophy, particularly its striking acceleration between late middle age and SEN, was paralleled by an accumulation of severely atrophic myofibers (≤ 1000 μm(2) in size) in both Sol and Gas. On the other hand, we observed no COX deficient myofibers in Sol, despite nearly 20% of the myofibers being severely atrophic. Similarly, only 0.17 ± 0.06% of all fibers in Gas were COX deficient, and their size was generally larger (2375 ± 319 μm(2)) than the severely atrophied myofibers noted above. Collectively, our results suggest that similar processes likely contribute to the acceleration of sarcopenia in both slow twitch and fast twitch muscles, and that COX deficiency is not a major contributor to this phenomenon.

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