Mitochondrial morphology is altered in atrophied skeletal muscle of aged mice

Oncotarget. 2015 Jul 20;6(20):17923-37. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.4235.


Skeletal muscle aging is associated with a progressive decline in muscle mass and strength, a process termed sarcopenia. Evidence suggests that accumulation of mitochondrial dysfunction plays a causal role in sarcopenia, which could be triggered by impaired mitophagy. Mitochondrial function, mitophagy and mitochondrial morphology are interconnected aspects of mitochondrial biology, and may coordinately be altered with aging. However, mitochondrial morphology has remained challenging to characterize in muscle, and whether sarcopenia is associated with abnormal mitochondrial morphology remains unknown. Therefore, we assessed the morphology of SubSarcolemmal (SS) and InterMyoFibrillar (IMF) mitochondria in skeletal muscle of young (8-12wk-old) and old (88-96wk-old) mice using a quantitative 2-dimensional transmission electron microscopy approach. We show that sarcopenia is associated with larger and less circular SS mitochondria. Likewise, aged IMF mitochondria were longer and more branched, suggesting increased fusion and/or decreased fission. Accordingly, although no difference in the content of proteins regulating mitochondrial dynamics (Mfn1, Mfn2, Opa1 and Drp1) was observed, a mitochondrial fusion index (Mfn2-to-Drp1 ratio) was significantly increased in aged muscles. Our results reveal that sarcopenia is associated with complex changes in mitochondrial morphology that could interfere with mitochondrial function and mitophagy, and thus contribute to aging-related accumulation of mitochondrial dysfunction and sarcopenia.

Keywords: Gerotarget; atrophy; mitochondria; mitochondrial dynamics; muscle aging; sarcopenia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dynamins / metabolism
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / metabolism
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / ultrastructure*
  • Mitochondrial Dynamics
  • Mitochondrial Size
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / ultrastructure*
  • Organelle Shape
  • Sarcopenia / metabolism
  • Sarcopenia / pathology*


  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • Mfn1 protein, mouse
  • Mfn2 protein, mouse
  • Opa1 protein, mouse
  • Dnm1l protein, mouse
  • Dynamins