Sarcopenia is the characteristic loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging. Among the suspected root causes are lack of exercise, failing blood vessel function, increasing levels of inflammation due to immune system aging and fat tissue, and changes in the ability of the body to process leucine from the diet. Interestingly the practice of calorie restriction is shown to mitigate the progress of sarcopenia, which might be taken as another vote for fat-related and inflammation-related causes, as calorie restricted individuals are lean and excess visceral fat tissue contributes considerably to levels of chronic inflammation.
Human aging is associated with a progressive loss of muscle mass and strength and a concomitant fat accumulation in form of inter-muscular adipose tissue, causing skeletal muscle function decline and immobilization. Fat accumulation can also occur as intra-muscular triglycerides (IMTG) deposition in lipid droplets, which are associated with perilipin proteins, such as Perilipin2 (Plin2). It is not known whether Plin2 expression changes with age and if this has consequences on muscle mass and strength.
We studied the expression of Plin2 in the vastus lateralis (VL) muscle of both healthy subjects and patients affected by lower limb mobility limitation of different age. We found that Plin2 expression increases with age, this phenomenon being particularly evident in patients. Moreover, Plin2 expression is inversely correlated with quadriceps strength and VL thickness. To investigate the molecular mechanisms underpinning this phenomenon, we focused on IGF-1/p53 network/signalling pathway, involved in muscle physiology. We found that Plin2 expression strongly correlates with increased p53 activation and reduced IGF-1 expression.
To confirm these observations made on humans, we studied mice overexpressing muscle-specific IGF-1, which are protected from sarcopenia. These mice resulted almost negative for the expression of Plin2 and p53 at two years of age. We conclude that fat deposition within skeletal muscle in form of Plin2-coated lipid droplets increases with age and is associated with decreased muscle strength and thickness, likely through an IGF-1- and p53-dependent mechanism. The data also suggest that excessive intramuscular fat accumulation could be the initial trigger for p53 activation and consequent loss of muscle mass and strength.