Pumping up the research: S.A. scientists asking why we lose muscle as we age


by Wendy Rigby / KENS 5


Posted on March 10, 2010 at 1:22 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 6 at 10:29 AM

There’s a saying that middle age is when you get your head together and your body starts falling apart. There’s some truth to that.

Now, San Antonio scientists are trying to find reasons for one of life’s hard truths. We all lose muscle mass as we age.
It’s the tissue that makes us move, the fibers that give us form. Muscles. We all lose muscle mass and function. It’s an inevitable process of aging called sarcopenia. We begin losing muscle at age 40, and by age 80, up to a third of it may be gone.
Scientists at the world renown Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the U.T. Health Science Center are trying to unravel the mysteries of sarcopenia.
“You may be fortunate enough to escape getting cancer or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, but yet, loss of muscle mass is something that happens to everyone,” said Holly Van Remmen, Ph.D., a UTHSC aging researcher. “And it has such a high impact on our quality of life.”
Mice are key to the experiment. Mice the exact same age look very different. One set is called “knockout” mice, mice bred with a specific gene. They develop muscle loss and look hunched over and weak. The control mice can walk the treadmill; the “knockout” mice struggle just to stay upright.
Van Remmen and her colleagues are looking at the physiology, trying to figure out which happens first, damage to the muscles of failing nerve/muscle connections at a point called the neuromuscular junction. By teasing out the cascade of events that lead to sarcopenia, they hope to pave the way for a method to prevent it.
“Any information that we can get that helps us to find clues as to why people lose muscle mass, that will open up opportunities for designing interventions,” Van Remmen stated.
Muscle mass helps everything from controlling body temperature to preventing falls. Keeping it intact longer could vastly improve our lives as we get old.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research. The results are being published in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.