Failure to expand the motor unit size to compensate for declining motor unit numbers distinguishes sarcopenic from non-sarcopenic older men

M. Piasecki, A. Ireland, J. Piasecki, Dan W. Stashuk, Agniezka Swiecicka, Martin Rutter, D. A. Jones, J. S. McPhee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Sarcopenia results from the progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and reduced function in older age. It is likely to be associated with the well‐documented reduction of motor unit numbers innervating limb muscles and the increase in size of surviving motor units via reinnervation of denervated fibres. However, no evidence exists to confirm the extent of motor unit remodelling in sarcopenic individuals. The aim of the present study was to compare motor unit size and number between young (n = 48), non‐sarcopenic old (n = 13), pre‐sarcopenic (n = 53) and sarcopenic (n = 29) men. Motor unit potentials (MUPs) were isolated from intramuscular and surface EMG recordings. The motor unit numbers were reduced in all groups of old compared with young men (all P < 0.001). MUPs were higher in non‐sarcopenic and pre‐sarcopenic men compared with young men (P = 0.039 and 0.001 respectively), but not in the vastus lateralis of sarcopenic old (P = 0.485). The results suggest that extensive motor unit remodelling occurs relatively early during ageing, exceeds the loss of muscle mass and precedes sarcopenia. Reinnervation of denervated muscle fibres probably expands the motor unit size in the non‐sarcopenic and pre‐sarcopenic old, but not in the sarcopenic old. These findings suggest that a failure to expand the motor unit size distinguishes sarcopenic from pre‐sarcopenic muscles.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Physiology
Early online date11 Mar 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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