Sarcopenia: characteristics, mechanisms and functional significance

Br Med Bull. 2010:95:139-59. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldq008. Epub 2010 Mar 2.


Sarcopenia reflects a progressive withdrawal of anabolism and an increased catabolism, along with a reduced muscle regeneration capacity. Muscle force and power decline more than muscle dimensions: older muscle is intrinsically weak. Sarcopenic obesity (SO) among the elderly corroborates to the loss of muscle mass increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome development. Recent studies on the musculoskeletal adaptations with ageing and key papers on the mechanisms of muscle wasting, its functional repercussions and on SO are included. Neuropathic, hormonal, immunological, nutritional and physical activity factors contribute to sarcopenia. Selective fast fibre atrophy, loss of motor units and an increase in hybrid fibres are typical findings of ageing. Satellite cell number decreases reducing muscle regeneration capacity. SO promotes further muscle wasting and increases risk of metabolic syndrome development. The proportion of fast to slow fibres seems maintained in old age. In elderly humans, nuclear domain is maintained constant. Basal protein synthesis and breakdown show little changes in old age. Instead, blunting of the anabolic response to feeding and exercise and of the antiproteolytic effect of insulin is observed. Further understanding of the mechanisms of sarcopenia requires disentangling of the effects of ageing alone from those of disuse and disease. The causes of the greater anabolic resistance to feeding and exercise of elderly women need elucidating. The enhancement of muscle regeneration via satellite cell activation via the MAPK/notch molecular pathways seems particularly promising.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Muscle Weakness / physiopathology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Sarcopenia / physiopathology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Muscle Proteins