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Muscle fibre type adaptation in the elderly human muscle


Corresponding author: Jesper L. Andersen, Ph D, Copenhagen Muscle Research Center, Department of Molecular Muscle Biology, Rigshospitalet, Section 9312 Juliane Mariesvej 20, 1th DK-2100, Copenhagen Ø, Denmark


This short review discusses changes in the fibre type distribution, myosin heavy chain isoform composition and histological appearance of the very elderly human skeletal muscle. Point of origin of the discussion comes from data that we have obtained from muscle biopsies from the vastus lateralis muscle of a group of frail very elderly subjects (age: 88 ± 3 years, range 85–97). Myosin heavy chain composition of muscle homogenates and single fibres, fibre type distribution, fibre size and capillary density were examined and compared with muscle biopsies from the young vastus lateralis muscle. Histological preparations of the muscle biopsies from our elderly subjects showed extended “grouping” (Nygaard & Sanchez, Anat Rec 1992: 202: 451–459) of the fibre types as well as significant changes in the appearance and size of the individual muscle fibres. On average, the fibre type composition of our very elderly subjects do not seem to be different to what is observed in a corresponding young group when examined with ATPase histochemistry. Likewise, the MHC composition of the muscle homogenates is comparable to what is observed in young subjects. Nevertheless, a detailed examination of the MHC composition of single fibres from the old subjects revealed that the most prominent phenotype was fibres co-expressing MHC I and MHC IIA. This is very different from what is observed in the young muscle. Detailed investigation of longitudinally cut fibres indicated that some fibres in the very old muscle, in contrast to the young muscle, switch fibre type along the length of the fibre or contain areas or nuclear domains in which the MHC expression is different from the remaining part of the fibre.