Mechanical unloading induces muscle atrophy and bone loss; however, the time course and interdependence of these effects is not well defined. We subjected 4-month-old C57BL/6J mice to hindlimb suspension (HLS) for 3 weeks, euthanizing 12 to 16 mice on day (D) 0, 7, 14, and 21. Lean mass was 7% to 9% lower for HLS versus control from D7-21. Absolute mass of the gastrocnemius (gastroc) decreased 8% by D7, and was maximally decreased 16% by D14 of HLS. mRNA levels of Atrogin-1 in the gastroc and quadriceps (quad) were increased 99% and 122%, respectively, at D7 of HLS. Similar increases in MuRF1 mRNA levels occurred at D7. Both atrogenes returned to baseline by D14. Protein synthesis in gastroc and quad was reduced 30% from D7-14 of HLS, returning to baseline by D21. HLS decreased phosphorylation of SK61, a substrate of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), on D7-21, whereas 4E-BP1 was not lower until D21. Cortical thickness of the femur and tibia did not decrease until D14 of HLS. Cortical bone of controls did not change over time. HLS mice had lower distal femur bone volume fraction (-22%) by D14; however, the effects of HLS were eliminated by D21 because of the decline of trabecular bone mass of controls. Femur strength was decreased approximately 13% by D14 of HLS, with no change in tibia mechanical properties at any time point. This investigation reveals that muscle atrophy precedes bone loss during unloading and may contribute to subsequent skeletal deficits. Countermeasures that preserve muscle may reduce bone loss induced by mechanical unloading or prolonged disuse. Trabecular bone loss with age, similar to that which occurs in mature astronauts, is superimposed on unloading. Preservation of muscle mass, cortical structure, and bone strength during the experiment suggests muscle may have a greater effect on cortical than trabecular bone.
Keywords: BONE LOSS; HINDLIMB SUSPENSION; MICROGRAVITY; MUSCLE ATROPHY; UNLOADING.
© 2014 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.