Motor Unit Changes Seen With Skeletal Muscle Sarcopenia in Oldest Old Rats

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Abstract

Sarcopenia leads to many changes in skeletal muscle that contribute to atrophy, force deficits, and subsequent frailty. The purpose of this study was to characterize motor unit remodeling related to sarcopenia seen in extreme old age. Whole extensor digitorum longus muscle and motor unit contractile properties were measured in 19 adult (11–13 months) and 12 oldest old (36–37 months) Brown-Norway rats. Compared with adults, oldest old rats had significantly fewer motor units per muscle, smaller muscle cross-sectional area, and lower muscle specific force. However, mean motor unit force generation was similar between the two groups due to an increase in innervation ratio by the oldest old rats. These findings suggest that even in extreme old age both fast- and slow-twitch motor units maintain the ability to undergo motor unit remodeling that offsets some effects of sarcopenia.

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