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Exp Gerontol. 2012 Sep;47(9):687-94. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

The effects of pre-habilitative conditioning on unloading-induced adaptations in young and aged neuromuscular systems.

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  • 1Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795, USA.


The capacity of pre-habilitative conditioning - exercise performed a priori - to mitigate neuromuscular maladaptations to disuse is unclear. This study evaluated pre-habilitation by examining neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) and the myofibers they innervate in young adult and aged muscles. Within each age category, 40 rats were divided into four treatment groups: 1) control, 2) hindlimb suspended (unloaded), 3) prehabilitative conditioning preceding hindlimb suspension, and 4) pre-habilitative conditioning alone. Cytofluorescent staining was used to visualize NMJs, and histochemical staining to assess myofiber profiles (size and type). Statistical analysis featured 2-way ANOVA with main effects for age and treatment, along with interaction. NMJs consistently revealed significant (P≤0.05) main effects for age, but not treatment, or interaction. Typically, aged NMJs showed elongated nerve terminal branching, and more dispersed post-synaptic clusters of ACh receptors, resulting in reduced post-synaptic area per given length of pre-synaptic branching. Analysis of myofiber profiles showed significant main effects for age, treatment, and their interaction. Aged myofibers were smaller than the young ones and a higher percentage of them were Type I. Aged fibers experienced significantly greater unloading-induced atrophy than the young ones. Pre-habilitative conditioning significantly attenuated unloading-induced atrophy among aged, but not young myofibers. It was also observed that pre-habilitative conditioning alone increased myofiber size among aged, but not young adult muscles. In summary, myofibers were more sensitive than NMJs to the treatment interventions implemented. Although more sensitive to the negative effects of muscle unloading, aged myofibers were also more responsive to the hypertrophic effects of pre-habilitative conditioning.

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