Researchers here assess the state of muscle stem cells and neuromuscular junctions, both known to decline in function with advancing age. This leads to sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength. This is a universal phenomenon, but some people are more affected than others. Many underlying mechanisms contribute to these issues, with the chronic inflammation of aging being an important one, but a perhaps surprising degree of muscle aging in our modern world is a consequence of lack of exercise. The study noted here is an example of this point, showing the degree to which fitness slows core aspects of muscle degeneration.
Muscle fibre denervation and declining numbers of muscle stem (satellite) cells are defining characteristics of ageing skeletal muscle. The aim of this study was to investigate the potential for lifelong recreational exercise to offset muscle fibre denervation and compromised satellite cell content and function, both at rest and under challenged conditions. Sixteen elderly lifelong recreational exercisers (LLEX) were studied alongside groups of age-matched sedentary (SED) and young subjects. Lean body mass and maximal voluntary contraction were assessed, and a strength training bout was performed. From muscle biopsies, tissue and primary myogenic cell cultures were analysed by immunofluorescence and RT-qPCR to assess myofibre denervation and satellite cell quantity and function.
LLEX demonstrated superior muscle function under challenged conditions. When compared with SED, the muscle of LLEX was found to contain a greater content of satellite cells associated with type II myofibres specifically, along with higher mRNA levels of the beta and gamma acetylcholine receptors (AChR). No difference was observed between LLEX and SED for the proportion of denervated fibres or satellite cell function, as assessed in vitro by myogenic cell differentiation and fusion index assays. When compared with inactive counterparts, the skeletal muscle of lifelong exercisers is characterised by greater fatigue resistance under challenged conditions in vivo, together with a more youthful tissue satellite cell and AChR profile. Our data suggest a little recreational level exercise goes a long way in protecting against the emergence of classic phenotypic traits associated with the aged muscle.