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Rejuvenation Res. 2017 Dec;20(6):449-461. doi: 10.1089/rej.2017.1942. Epub 2017 Jun 19.

Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation Combined with Protein Ingestion Preserves Thigh Muscle Mass But Not Muscle Function in Healthy Older Adults During 5 Days of Bed Rest.

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1 Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training, University of Utah , Salt Lake City, Utah.
2 Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology, University of Utah , Salt Lake City, Utah.
3 Division of Geriatrics, University of Utah , Salt Lake City, Utah.
4 VA Salt Lake City Geriatric Research , Education, and Clinical Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Short-term bed rest in older adults is characterized by significant loss in leg lean mass and strength posing significant health consequences. The purpose of this study was to determine in healthy older adults if the daily combination of neuromuscular electrical stimulation and protein supplementation (NMES+PRO) would protect muscle mass and function after 5 days of bed rest. Twenty healthy older adults (∼70 years) were subjected to 5 days of continuous bed rest and were randomized into one of two groups: NMES+PRO (n = 10) or control (CON) (n = 10). The NMES+PRO group received bilateral NMES to quadriceps (40 minutes/session, 3 × /day; morning, afternoon, and evening) followed by an interventional protein supplement (17 g). The CON group received an isocaloric equivalent beverage. Before and after bed rest, vastus lateralis biopsies occurred before and after acute essential amino acid (EAA) ingestion for purposes of acutely stimulating mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTORC1) signaling, a major regulator of muscle protein synthesis, in response to bed rest and NMES+PRO. Baseline (pre and post bed rest) muscle samples were also used to assess myofiber characteristics and gene expression of muscle atrophy markers. Thigh lean mass and muscle function were measured before and after bed rest. Five days of bed rest reduced thigh lean mass, muscle function, myofiber cross-sectional area, satellite cell content, blunted EAA-induced mTORC1 signaling, and increased myostatin and MAFbx mRNA expression. Interestingly, NMES+PRO during bed rest maintained thigh lean mass, but not muscle function. Thigh muscle preservation during bed rest with NMES+PRO may partly be explained by attenuation of myostatin and MAFbx mRNA expression rather than restoration of nutrient-induced mTORC1 signaling. We conclude that the combination of NMES and protein supplementation thrice a day may be an effective therapeutic tool to use to preserve thigh muscle mass during periods of short-term hospitalization in older adults. However this combined intervention was not effective to prevent the loss in muscle function.


NMES; aging; atrophy; disuse; leucine; mTORC1

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