To answer the question of whether the satellite cell pool in human muscle is reduced during aging, we detected satellite cells in 30- microm-thick transverse sections under the confocal microscope by binding of M-cadherin antibody. The basal lamina was detected with laminin. Nuclei were stained with bisbenzimide or propidium iodide. Satellite cells were counted by applying the disector method and unbiased sampling design. To determine if there are age-related differences in muscle fiber types, morphometric characteristics of muscle fibers were examined on thin sections stained for myofibrillar ATPase. Autopsy samples of vastus lateralis muscle from six young (28.7 +/- 2.3 years) and six old (70.8 +/- 1.3 years) persons who had suffered sudden death were analyzed. Numbers of satellite cells per fiber length (Nsc/Lfib) and number of satellite cells per total number of nuclei (satellite cell nuclei + myonuclei) (Nsc/Nnucl) were significantly lower in the old group (p < 0.05). We demonstrate the importance of proper sampling and counting in estimation of sparsely distributed structures such as satellite cells. Our results support the hypothesis that the satellite cell fraction declines during aging.