BACKGROUND: In human skeletal muscles, the aging process causes a decrease of contractile and a concomitant increase of intramuscular adipose (IMAT) and connective (IMCT) tissues. The accumulation of non-contractile tissues may contribute to the significant loss of intrinsic muscle strength typically observed at older age but their in vivo quantification is challenging. The purpose of this study was to establish MR imaging-based methods to quantify the relative amounts of IMCT, IMAT and contractile tissues in young and older human cohorts, and investigate their roles in determining age-associated changes in skeletal muscle strength.
METHODS: Five young (31.6 ± 7.0 yrs) and five older (83.4 ± 3.2 yrs) Japanese women were subject to a detailed MR imaging protocol, including Fast Gradient Echo, Quantitative Fat/Water (IDEAL) and Ultra-short Echo Time (UTE) sequences, to determine contractile muscle tissue and IMAT within the entire Triceps Surae complex, and IMCT within both heads of the Gastrocnemius muscle. Specific force was calculated as the ratio of isometric plantarflexor force and the physiological cross-sectional area of the Triceps Surae complex.
RESULTS: In the older cohort, total Triceps Surae volume was smaller by 17.5%, while the relative amounts of Triceps Surae IMAT and Gastrocnemius IMCT were larger by 55.1% and 48.9%, respectively. Differences of 38.6% and 42.1% in plantarflexor force and specific force were observed. After subtraction of IMAT and IMCT from total muscle volume, differences in intrinsic strength decreased to 29.6%.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data establishes that aging causes significant changes in skeletal muscle composition, with marked increases in non-contractile tissues. Such quantification of the remodeling process is likely to be of functional and clinical importance in elucidating the causes of the disproportionate age-associated decrease of force compared to that of muscle volume.
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