New Insights Into the Mechanisms of Sarcopenia

In this new study, researchers aimed to further elucidate the mechanisms of sarcopenia by examining the influence of denervation in young and middle-aged mice.

New Insights Into the Mechanisms of Sarcopenia

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A hallmark characteristic of aging is the progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass, known as sarcopenia. A process called motor neuron denervation (Den)—when nerve signals to muscles are blocked or reduced—leads to muscle atrophy, fatigue and eventually muscle loss. Determining how and when Den events influence older muscles is crucially important for developing interventions to stop or reverse age-related muscle wasting.

“Further, aged muscle exhibits reduced plasticity to both enhanced and suppressed contractile activity. It remains unclear when the onset of this blunted response occurs, and how middle-aged muscle adapts to denervation.”

Dysfunctional mitochondria in muscle tissue are known to increase with age. Lysosomes are responsible for the recycling of damaged mitochondria. However, as muscles age, lysosomal function in muscle tissue also declines.

In a new study, researchers Matthew Triolo, Debasmita Bhattacharya and David A. Hood from York University in Toronto, Canada, aimed to characterize the time-dependent changes in denervated skeletal muscle from middle-aged mice. The team focussed on how mitochondrial turnover is impacted. On November 4, 2022, their research paper was published in Aging’s Volume 14, Issue 22, entitled, “Denervation induces mitochondrial decline and exacerbates lysosome dysfunction in middle-aged mice.”

The Study

“The purpose of this study was to compare mitochondrial turnover pathways in young (Y, ~5months) and middle-aged (MA, ~15months) mice, and determine the influence of Den.”

Male mt-Keima mice aged 4-6 months (young) and 14-16 months (middle-aged) were included in this study. The researchers performed surgical procedures to induce Den in the hindlimb muscles of the study mice. After one, three, or seven days of Den, tissue was excised and imaged using confocal microscopy. The researchers collected whole-muscle protein extracts and conducted Western blotting. Statistical analysis was performed using the data they collected.

The middle-aged muscles were compared to muscles from control and young mice. The researchers found that muscle mass, mitochondrial content and PGC-1α protein levels were not different between the young and middle-aged mice. However, indications of enhanced mitochondrial fission and mitophagy and a greater abundance of lysosome proteins were evident in the middle-aged muscle. Their data suggest that increases in fission drive an acceleration of mitophagy in middle-aged murine muscle in order to preserve mitochondrial quality. 

“Den exacerbates the aging phenotype by reducing biogenesis in the absence of a change in mitophagy, perhaps limited by lysosomal capacity, leading to an accumulation of dysfunctional mitochondria with an age-related loss of neuromuscular innervation.”


“In our present study, the inability to upregulate mitophagy flux with denervation is driven by a combination of 1) failure to increase mitophagic proteins and 2) the appearance of dysfunctional lysosomes.”

This latest study may shed light on how muscles age and reveal the importance of mitophagy and lysosomal function in maintaining healthy muscles among middle-aged mice. The study also highlights that denervation induces mitochondrial decline and exacerbates lysosome dysfunction in muscles, thereby worsening age-related muscular atrophy. Further studies are needed to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind these changes and how they can be prevented or reversed.

“Thus, therapies to combat muscle wasting with age-related physiologic denervation must be designed accordingly. Our results imply targeting both mitochondrial biogenesis and maintenance of lysosome capacity will serve to restore mitochondrial homeostasis and likely metabolic capacity of skeletal muscle.”

Click here to read the full research paper published by Aging.

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Trending With Impact: Circulating Mitochondria and Inflamm-Aging

Authors from the National Institute on Aging wrote a trending editorial paper on mitochondria extracellular vesicles and aging.

Figure 1. Mitochondrial DNA in extracellular vesicles and association with human aging.
Figure 1. Mitochondrial DNA in extracellular vesicles and association with human aging.
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The Trending With Impact series highlights Aging publications that attract higher visibility among readers around the world online, in the news, and on social media—beyond normal readership levels. Look for future science news about the latest trending publications here, and at

Some structures inside cells play elusive, yet important roles in human aging. Researchers believe structures classified as extracellular vesicles (EVs), released outside of cell walls, may also play key components in the aging process—specifically related to chronic inflammation.

“EVs are lipid-bound nano-sized vesicles that are secreted outside of cells into the circulation (Figure 1A).”

Two researchers from the National Institutes of Health‘s National Institute on Aging wrote a trending editorial paper, published by Aging in 2021, and entitled, “Mitochondria as extracellular vesicle cargo in aging.” 

Inflammation and Aging

The term “inflamm-aging” has been coined to describe the common state of chronic low-grade inflammation associated with aging. Researchers believe that inflammation contributes to many age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and even dementia.

“In fact, inflammation-related diseases account for more than 50% of worldwide deaths, stressing the importance of inflammation in driving age-related disease and mortality [1,2].”

In the elderly, cellular damage and stress (among other causes) may contribute to chronic inflammation, which can initiate a release of mitochondrial damage-associated molecular patterns. This process can initiate cells to release mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) into the space outside of the cell as circulating cell-free mitochondria DNA (ccf-mtDNA).

“Due to the similarities between mtDNA and bacterial DNA, this release can in turn elicit a sterile inflammatory response through activation of the innate immune system.”

Circulating Cell-Free Mitochondria DNA

Authors of this editorial believe that ccf-mtDNA may contribute to systemic chronic inflammation. In a previous study, researchers found, in general, that higher plasma/serum levels of ccf-mtDNA were reported in patients with inflammatory-related diseases and after acute injury or infection. However, ccf-mtDNA’s role in aging is complex, as one study showed that ccf-mtDNA levels initially decline into middle-age, and then gradually increase after age 50. 

The molecular details of how ccf-mtDNA exists within blood circulation has yet to be elucidated. Questions still linger surrounding whether or not components in the blood bind to ccf-mtDNA. If components do bind to ccf-mtDNA, are they capable of protecting ccf-mtDNA from destruction in circulation?

Extracellular Vesicles and mtDNA

“Given these gaps in the field, we recently explored whether plasma mtDNA can be encapsulated in extracellular vesicles (EVs) [5].”

The researchers evaluated multiple studies to find that mtDNA can be encapsulated in EVs isolated from plasma—both in cells that have been grown in vitro and in plasma EVs from patients with breast cancer. The next question the researchers addressed was: How do levels of mtDNA in plasma EVs fair in normal conditions and with age?

“To address this need, we isolated plasma EVs and analyzed mtDNA levels with human age. Individuals in this aging cohort had donated plasma at two different time points approximately 5 years apart, which enabled us to examine both crosssectional and longitudinal changes.”


“In both our cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses, EV mtDNA levels decreased with advancing age [5] (Figure 1B).”

The researchers concluded by reporting EV mtDNA levels decreased over a span of five years in the longitudinal cohort. Mitochondrial components, including mtDNA, may be important EV cargo. They emphasized that further research is needed and that it is important for researchers to consider age when using EVs as diagnostic or prognostic markers of disease. 

Click here to read the full editorial paper, published by Aging.


Aging is an open-access journal that publishes research papers monthly in all fields of aging research and other topics. These papers are available to read at no cost to readers on Open-access journals offer information that has the potential to benefit our societies from the inside out and may be shared with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and other researchers, far and wide.

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