Exercise-mediated reinnervation of skeletal muscle in elderly people: An update

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Sarcopenia is defined by the loss of muscle mass and function. In aging sarcopenia is due to mild chronic inflammation but also to fiber-intrinsic defects, such as mitochondrial dysfunction. Age-related sarcopenia is associated with physical disability and lowered quality of life. In addition to skeletal muscle, the nervous tissue is also affected in elderly people. With aging, type 2 fast fibers preferentially undergo denervation and are reinnervated by slow-twitch motor neurons. They spread forming new neuro-muscular junctions with the denervated fibers: the result is an increased proportion of slow fibers that group together since they are associated in the same motor unit. Grouping and fiber type shifting are indeed major histological features of aging skeletal muscle. Exercise has been proposed as an intervention for age-related sarcopenia due to its numerous beneficial effects on muscle mechanical and biochemical features. In 2013, a precursor study in humans was published in the European Journal of Translation Myology (formerly known as Basic and Applied Myology), highlighting the occurrence of reinnervation in the musculature of aged, exercise-trained individuals as compared to the matching control. This paper, entitled «Reinnervation of Vastus lateralis is increased significantly in seniors (70-years old) with a lifelong history of high-level exercise», is now being reprinted for the second issue of the «Ejtm Seminal Paper Series». In this short review we discuss those results in the light of the most recent advances confirming the occurrence of exercise-mediated reinnervation, ultimately preserving muscle structure and function in elderly people who exercise.

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