Muscle dysfunction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: update on causes and biological findings

J Thorac Dis. 2015 Oct;7(10):E418-38. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2015.08.04.


Respiratory and/or limb muscle dysfunction, which are frequently observed in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, contribute to their disease prognosis irrespective of the lung function. Muscle dysfunction is caused by the interaction of local and systemic factors. The key deleterious etiologic factors are pulmonary hyperinflation for the respiratory muscles and deconditioning secondary to reduced physical activity for limb muscles. Nonetheless, cigarette smoke, systemic inflammation, nutritional abnormalities, exercise, exacerbations, anabolic insufficiency, drugs and comorbidities also seem to play a relevant role. All these factors modify the phenotype of the muscles, through the induction of several biological phenomena in patients with COPD. While respiratory muscles improve their aerobic phenotype (percentage of oxidative fibers, capillarization, mitochondrial density, enzyme activity in the aerobic pathways, etc.), limb muscles exhibit the opposite phenotype. In addition, both muscle groups show oxidative stress, signs of damage and epigenetic changes. However, fiber atrophy, increased number of inflammatory cells, altered regenerative capacity; signs of apoptosis and autophagy, and an imbalance between protein synthesis and breakdown are rather characteristic features of the limb muscles, mostly in patients with reduced body weight. Despite that significant progress has been achieved in the last decades, full elucidation of the specific roles of the target biological mechanisms involved in COPD muscle dysfunction is still required. Such an achievement will be crucial to adequately tackle with this relevant clinical problem of COPD patients in the near-future.

Keywords: Muscle dysfunction; deconditioning; hyperinflation; proteostasis; systemic inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review