The Physiology and Biochemistry of Skeletal Muscle Atrophy as a Function of Age

Eli Carmeli, Abraham Z. Reznick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The skeletal muscles are an important entity in the proper function of aging animals and humans. Studies have shown that until humans are 60-70 years old, age-related changes in muscle function and structure are relatively small, while after 70 years, these alterations are accelerated considerably. Factors responsible for the “aging” of skeletal muscles are complex and include intrinsic biochemical changes in muscle metabolism, changes in the distribution and size of muscle fibers, and a general loss of muscle mass. In addition, other factors like the control of muscle contraction by the motor neural system and the influence of external conditions such as exercise, immobility, nutrition and others may also contribute to the age-related decrease in muscle functions. Studies have shown that with age there is some loss of peripheral motor neurons, reduction in the number of motor units, alterations in the neuromuscular junctions, and selective denervation of Type II muscle fibers. These findings led to the concept of denervation atrophy of skeletal muscles as one of the major mechanisms for muscle degeneration in old age. However, it should be emphasized that the extent of age-related changes varies from muscle to muscle, and some do not seem to be affected by age. For example, it has been shown recently, in animal studies, that weight-bearing muscles are much more susceptible to senescent processes than non-weight-bearing muscles. More work is needed to clarify the contributions of the various factors, especially the role of muscle training in alleviating the symptoms of age-related muscle atrophy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-113
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1994
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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