Macrophage immunomodulation accelerates skeletal muscle functional recovery in aged mice following disuse atrophy

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2022 Oct 1;133(4):919-931. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00374.2022. Epub 2022 Sep 1.


Poor recovery of muscle size and strength with aging coincides with a dysregulated macrophage response during the early stages of regrowth. Immunomodulation in the form of ex vivo cytokine (macrophage-colony stimulating factor) or polarized macrophage delivery has been demonstrated to improve skeletal muscle regeneration. However, it is unclear if these macrophage-promoting approaches would be effective to improve skeletal muscle recovery following disuse in aged animals. Here, we isolated bone marrow-derived macrophages from donor mice of different ages under various experimental conditions and polarized them into proinflammatory macrophages. Macrophages were delivered intramuscularly into young adult or aged recipient mice during the early recovery period following a period of hindlimb unloading (HU). Delivery of proinflammatory macrophages from donor young adults or aged mice was sufficient to increase muscle function of aged mice during the recovery period. Moreover, proinflammatory macrophages derived from aged donor mice collected during recovery were similarly able to increase muscle function of aged mice following disuse. In addition to the delivery of macrophages, we showed that the intramuscular injection of the cytokine, macrophage-colony stimulating factor, to the muscle of aged mice following HU was able to increase muscle macrophage content and muscle force production during recovery. Together, these results suggest that macrophage immunomodulation approaches in the form of ex vivo proinflammatory macrophage or macrophage-colony stimulating factor delivery during the early recovery phase following disuse atrophy were sufficient to restore the loss of aged skeletal muscle function.NEW & NOTEWORTHY A single intramuscular administration of polarized macrophages into muscles of aged mice following a bout of disuse atrophy was sufficient to improve functional recover similarly to young adults after disuse atrophy regardless of the age or experimental condition of the donor mice. Additionally, intramuscular delivery of macrophage-colony stimulating factor into aged mice was similarly effective. Targeting macrophage function early during the regrowth phase may be a novel tool to bolster muscle recovery in aging.

Keywords: aging; immune cells; inflammation; muscle function; sarcopenia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines
  • Hindlimb Suspension / physiology
  • Immunomodulation
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Mice
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscular Atrophy*
  • Muscular Disorders, Atrophic* / pathology


  • Cytokines