Modest Calorie Restriction Improves Muscle Quality in Humans

The practice of calorie restriction is known to improve health in many ways. Researchers continue to perform analyses on the samples taken from the human CALERIE study that was conducted some years ago, in which comparatively mild calorie restriction produced worthwhile results in the study participants. Here, researchers note improvements in markers of muscle quality, as one might expect given the animal studies of calorie restriction in which similar improvements were observed in skeletal muscle.

The lifespan extension induced by 40% caloric restriction (CR) in rodents is accompanied by postponement of disease, preservation of function, and increased stress resistance. Whether CR elicits the same physiological and molecular responses in humans remains mostly unexplored. In the CALERIE study, 12% CR for 2 years in healthy humans induced minor losses of muscle mass (leg lean mass) without changes of muscle strength, but mechanisms for muscle quality preservation remained unclear.

We performed high-depth RNA-Seq (387-618 million paired reads) on human vastus lateralis muscle biopsies collected from the CALERIE participants at baseline, 12- and 24-month follow-up from the 90 CALERIE participants randomized to CR and "ad libitum" control. Using linear mixed effect model, we identified protein-coding genes and splicing variants whose expression was significantly changed in the CR group compared to controls, including genes related to proteostasis, circadian rhythm regulation, DNA repair, mitochondrial biogenesis, mRNA processing/splicing, FOXO3 metabolism, apoptosis, and inflammation.

Changes in some of these biological pathways mediated part of the positive effect of CR on muscle quality. Differentially expressed splicing variants were associated with change in pathways shown to be affected by CR in model organisms. Two years of sustained CR in humans positively affected skeletal muscle quality, and impacted gene expression and splicing profiles of biological pathways affected by CR in model organisms, suggesting that attainable levels of CR in a lifestyle intervention can benefit muscle health in humans.