Background: Muscle regeneration depends on satellite cells, myogenic stem cells that reside on the myofiber surface. Reduced numbers and/or decreased myogenic aptitude of these cells may impede proper maintenance and contribute to the age-associated decline in muscle mass and repair capacity. Endurance exercise was shown to improve muscle performance; however, the direct impact on satellite cells in aging was not yet thoroughly determined. Here, we focused on characterizing the effect of moderate-intensity endurance exercise on satellite cell, as possible means to attenuate adverse effects of aging. Young and old rats of both genders underwent 13 weeks of treadmill-running or remained sedentary.
Methodology: Gastrocnemius muscles were assessed for the effect of age, gender and exercise on satellite-cell numbers and myogenic capacity. Satellite cells were identified in freshly isolated myofibers based on Pax7 immunostaining (i.e., ex-vivo). The capacity of individual myofiber-associated cells to produce myogenic progeny was determined in clonal assays (in-vitro). We show an age-associated decrease in satellite-cell numbers and in the percent of myogenic clones in old sedentary rats. Upon exercise, there was an increase in myofibers that contain higher numbers of satellite cells in both young and old rats, and an increase in the percent of myogenic clones derived from old rats. Changes at the satellite cell level in old rats were accompanied with positive effects on the lean-to-fat Gast muscle composition and on spontaneous locomotion levels. The significance of these data is that they suggest that the endurance exercise-mediated boost in both satellite numbers and myogenic properties may improve myofiber maintenance in aging.