Age-related changes in motor cortical properties and voluntary activation of skeletal muscle

Curr Aging Sci. 2011 Dec;4(3):192-9. doi: 10.2174/1874609811104030192.


Aging is associated with dramatic reductions in muscle strength and motor control, and many of these agerelated changes in muscle function result from adaptations in the central nervous system. Aging is associated with widespread qualitative and quantitative changes of the motor cortex. For example, advancing age has been suggested to result in cortical atrophy, reduced cortical excitability, reduced cortical plasticity, as well as neurochemical abnormalities.The associated functional effects of these changes likely influence numerous aspects of muscle performance such as muscle strength and motor control. For example, there is evidence to suggest that the muscle weakness associated with aging is partially due to impairments in the nervous system's ability to fully activate motor neurons- particularly in the larger proximal muscle groups. In this review article we discuss age-related changes in the motor cortex, as well as the abilityor lack thereof- of older adults to voluntarily activate skeletal muscle. We also provide perspectives on scientific and clinical questions that need to be addressed in the near future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging* / pathology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity
  • Motor Cortex / pathology
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle Strength
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Volition*