One of the key factors responsible for the age-associated reduction in muscle mass may be that satellite cell proliferation potential (number of doublings contained within each cell) could become rate limiting to old muscle regrowth. No studies have tested whether repeated cycles of atrophy-regrowth in aged animals deplete the remaining capacity of satellite cells to replicate or what measures can be taken to prevent this from happening. We hypothesized that there would be a pronounced loss of satellite cell proliferative potential in gastrocnemius muscles of aged rats (25- to 30-mo-old FBN rats) subjected to three cycles of atrophy by hindlimb immobilization (plaster casts) with intervening recovery periods. Our results indicated that there was a significant loss in gastrocnemius muscle mass and in the proliferative potential of the resident satellite cells after just one bout of immobilization. Neither the muscle mass nor the satellite cell proliferation potential recovered from their atrophied values after either the first 3-wk or later 9-wk recovery period. Remarkably, application of insulin-like growth factor I onto the atrophied gastrocnemius muscle for an additional 2 wk after this 9-wk recovery period rescued approximately 46% of the lost muscle mass and dramatically increased proliferation potential of the satellite cells from this muscle.
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