Purpose of review: Muscle atrophy is a pervasive problem that occurs with disuse, aging, and a myriad of disease conditions. The purposes of this review are to describe recent advances in studying muscle atrophy that have elucidated pathways involved at the molecular level; to compare different types of atrophy--primary (e.g. bed rest, immobilization) and secondary (when the atrophy is related to pathology as well as disuse, e.g. injury, sepsis etc.) and their multiple common features; to review progress in studying the recovery process and clinical status.
Recent findings: Major advances have been made at the molecular level. There are two phenotypes for muscle atrophy--primary, which is mainly related to disuse (e.g. bed), and secondary, when the atrophy is related to pathology as well as disuse. It appears that the two forms have multiple elements in common. Studies on the recovery process reveal a very complex sequence of events that are not the simple reverse of the muscle loss process. In contrast to the progress at the molecular level, progress in treating muscle atrophy or accelerating recovery has been disappointing.
Summary: Although nutritional supplementation and pharmacological agents continue to have the potential to minimize muscle atrophy, given its minimal risks, exercise sets a very high standard for treatment options when medically appropriate. Identification of pathways and control points offers the potential for new approaches.