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Situations such as the recovery from injury and illness can lead to enforced periods of muscle disuse or unloading. Such circumstances lead to rapid skeletal muscle atrophy, loss of functional strength and a multitude of related negative health consequences. The elderly population is particularly vulnerable to the acute challenges of muscle disuse atrophy. Any loss of skeletal muscle mass must be underpinned by a chronic imbalance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown rates. It is recognized that muscle atrophy during prolonged ( > 10 days ) disuse is brought about primarily by declines in post-absorptive and post-prandial muscle protein synthesis rates, without a clear contribution from changes in muscle protein breakdown. Few data are available on the impact of short-term disuse ( < 10 days ) on muscle protein turnover in humans. However, indirect evidence indicates that considerable muscle atrophy occurs during this early phase, and is likely attributed to a rapid increase in muscle protein breakdown accompanied by the characteristic decline in muscle protein synthesis. Short-term disuse atrophy is of particular relevance in the development of sarcopenia, as it has been suggested that successive short periods of muscle disuse, due to sickness or injury, accumulate throughout an individual's lifespan and contributes considerably to the net muscle loss observed with aging. Research is warranted to elucidate the physiological and molecular basis for rapid muscle loss during short periods of disuse. Such mechanistic insight will allow the characterization of nutritional, exercise and/or pharmacological interventions to prevent or attenuate muscle loss during periods of disuse and therefore aid in the treatment of age-related sarcopenia.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

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Journal Article

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