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J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2012 Sep;3(3):163-79. doi: 10.1007/s13539-012-0074-6. Epub 2012 Jun 7.

Molecular and cellular mechanisms of skeletal muscle atrophy: an update.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences and Biotechnologies and Interuniversitary Institute of Myology (IIM), University of Brescia, viale Europa 11, 25123, Brescia, Italy,


Skeletal muscle atrophy is defined as a decrease in muscle mass and it occurs when protein degradation exceeds protein synthesis. Potential triggers of muscle wasting are long-term immobilization, malnutrition, severe burns, aging as well as various serious and often chronic diseases, such as chronic heart failure, obstructive lung disease, renal failure, AIDS, sepsis, immune disorders, cancer, and dystrophies. Interestingly, a cooperation between several pathophysiological factors, including inappropriately adapted anabolic (e.g., growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1) and catabolic proteins (e.g., tumor necrosis factor alpha, myostatin), may tip the balance towards muscle-specific protein degradation through activation of the proteasomal and autophagic systems or the apoptotic pathway. Based on the current literature, we present an overview of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that contribute to muscle wasting. We also focus on the multifacetted therapeutic approach that is currently employed to prevent the development of muscle wasting and to counteract its progression. This approach includes adequate nutritional support, implementation of exercise training, and possible pharmacological compounds.

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