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Anat Rec. 1997 Jul;248(3):346-54.

Quantitative study of the effects of long-term denervation on the extensor digitorum longus muscle of the rat.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology and Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109, USA.



In order to understand the cellular basis underlying the progressively poorer restorative capacity of long-term denervated muscle, we determined the effects of long-term denervation on the muscle fibers and satellite cell population of the rat extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscle.


In 36 male rats, the right hind legs were denervated, and EDL muscles were removed 2, 4, 7, 12, and 18 months later. Muscles were either fixed for electron microscopic analysis or were dissociated into individual muscle fibers for direct fiber counting or for confocal microscopic analysis.


The percentage of satellite cells rose from the 2.8% control value to 9.1% at 2 months of denervation; thereafter the percentage decreased to 1.1% at 18 months of denervation. The number of myonuclei per muscle fiber steadily declined from 410 in 4 month control muscle to 158 in 7 month denervated muscle. Up to 7 months of denervation, the total number of muscle fibers per muscle remained relatively constant at somewhat over 5,000. The calculated total satellite cell population in 4 month denervated EDL muscle was the same as that of controls at 65,000, but by 7 months of denervation it had declined to 21,000. With increasing time of denervation, the number of cross-sectional profiles of muscle fibers not containing nuclei rose from 14% in control muscle to 49% in 12 month denervated muscle. This was correlated with a pronounced regular clumping of the nuclei, with pronounced nonnucleated segments between nuclear clumps.


Increasing times of denervation are accompanied by a pronounced decline in the number of myonuclei per muscle fiber and an initial rise and subsequent fall in satellite cell number. These changes are correlated with a decreasing restorative ability of these muscles over the same periods of denervation. Further work on the proliferative capacity of the remaining satellite cells is necessary before firm quantitative conclusions can be made.

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