Autophagy gene expression in skeletal muscle of older individuals is associated with physical performance, muscle volume and mitochondrial function in the study of muscle, mobility and aging (SOMMA)

Aging Cell. 2024 Jun;23(6):e14118. doi: 10.1111/acel.14118. Epub 2024 Apr 16.


Autophagy is essential for proteostasis, energetic balance, and cell defense and is a key pathway in aging. Identifying associations between autophagy gene expression patterns in skeletal muscle and physical performance outcomes would further our knowledge of mechanisms related with proteostasis and healthy aging. Muscle biopsies were obtained from participants in the Study of Muscle, Mobility, and Aging (SOMMA). For 575 participants, RNA was sequenced and expression of 281 genes related to autophagy regulation, mitophagy, and mTOR/upstream pathways was determined. Associations between gene expression and outcomes including mitochondrial respiration in muscle fiber bundles (MAX OXPHOS), physical performance (VO2 peak, 400 m walking speed, and leg power), and thigh muscle volume, were determined using negative binomial regression models. For autophagy, key transcriptional regulators including TFE3 and NFKB-related genes (RELA, RELB, and NFKB1) were negatively associated with outcomes. On the contrary, regulators of oxidative metabolism that also promote overall autophagy, mitophagy, and pexophagy (PPARGC1A, PPARA, and EPAS1) were positively associated with multiple outcomes. In line with this, several mitophagy, fusion, and fission-related genes (NIPSNAP2, DNM1L, and OPA1) were also positively associated with outcomes. For mTOR pathway and related genes, expression of WDR59 and WDR24, both subunits of GATOR2 complex (an indirect inhibitor of mTORC1), and PRKAG3, which is a regulatory subunit of AMPK, were negatively correlated with multiple outcomes. Our study identifies autophagy and selective autophagy such as mitophagy gene expression patterns in human skeletal muscle related to physical performance, muscle volume, and mitochondrial function in older persons which may lead to target identification to preserve mobility and independence.

Keywords: aging; autophagy; gene expression; mTor; mitochondria; mobility; oxidative metabolism.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging* / genetics
  • Aging* / metabolism
  • Autophagy* / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal* / metabolism
  • Physical Functional Performance