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Inevitable Muscle Wasting in Elderly May Be Halted and Reversed, Finds New Study

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Researchers have found a new way of boosting the muscle regeneration process in old age back to the levels of the young.

As we grow older, our muscles gradually deteriorate, a process known as sarcopenia. Despite its universality, the underlying causes and mechanisms of sarcopenia have remained elusive.

However, a groundbreaking study conducted by the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University has shed light on this phenomenon using an unexpected research subject—the African killifish.

This study has revealed a remarkable discovery: in the twilight of life, our muscles actually revert to a state resembling early life, which significantly slows down the aging process.

The research, recently published in the scientific journal Aging Cell, was spearheaded by Professor Peter Currie and Dr. Avnika Ruparelia, who are esteemed members of ARMI and the University of Melbourne.

By unraveling the mechanisms behind muscle rejuvenation, this research offers a promising clue towards addressing the escalating challenges posed by sarcopenia in the global population.

The African turquoise killifish, scientifically known as Nothobranchius furzeri, has recently emerged as a promising new model for studying the process of aging. Among all vertebrate species that can be bred in captivity, killifish possess the shortest known lifespan. Their life cycle begins with the arrival of the African rains, which create seasonal rain pools. In these pools, the fish hatch and experience rapid growth, reaching maturity in as little as two weeks. They then engage in daily reproduction until the pool eventually dries out.

One significant aspect of the killifish’s short lifespan is that it exhibits aging-related symptoms that parallel those seen in humans. This includes the development of cancerous lesions in the liver and gonads, a diminished capacity for limb regeneration (specifically the fins), and genetic traits associated with human aging. These genetic characteristics include a decrease in mitochondrial DNA copy number and function, as well as a shortening of telomeres.

This particular study conducted by Dr. Ruparelia marks the first time that killifish have been utilized as a model organism to investigate sarcopenia, a condition characterized by the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength commonly observed in older individuals.

In this work, they “performed a thorough cellular and molecular characterization of skeletal muscle from early life, aged and extremely old late-life stages, revealing many similarities to sarcopenia in humans and other mammals,” according to Dr. Ruparelia.

In a surprising discovery, the researchers also observed a reversal of these metabolic indicators associated with aging during the late stages of life. This finding suggests that in remarkably old animals, there might exist mechanisms that hinder the continued decline of skeletal muscle health. Ultimately, these mechanisms could play a role in extending their lifespan, as emphasized by Dr. Ruparelia.

“Importantly, the late-life stage during which we observed improved muscle health perfectly coincides with a stage when mortality rates decline,” she said.

“We, therefore, postulate that the improvement in muscle health may be a critical factor contributing to the extension of life span in extremely old individuals.”

To gain deeper insights into the underlying mechanisms, the team conducted a comprehensive investigation into the metabolic changes occurring in fish throughout various stages of the aging process. Surprisingly, their experiment revealed a fascinating phenomenon: specific aspects of the metabolism in the oldest fish were rejuvenated, resembling those observed in young fish. This discovery highlighted the crucial role of lipid metabolism in the rejuvenation process. Moreover, the researchers found that by utilizing medications that regulate the production of certain lipids, a similar rejuvenating effect on aging muscles could be achieved.

“During extreme old age,” as explained by senior author Prof Currie, “there is a striking depletion of lipids, which are the main energy reserves in our cells.

“We believe that this mimics a state of calorie restriction, a process known to extend life span in other organsims, which results in activation of downstream mechanisms ultimately enabling the animal to maintain nutrient balance and live longer. A similar process is seen in the muscle of highly trained athletes.”

Dr. Ruparelia expressed enthusiasm about the possibility of reversing muscle aging and potentially treating it with drugs that can manipulate a cell’s metabolism. This is particularly promising considering the increasing social, economic, and healthcare burdens associated with the growing elderly population worldwide.

Image Credit: Getty

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