Cambridge scientists shed more light on why ageing muscles get weaker

  • ITV News Anglia's Elodie Harper went to find out more

Scientists have created a "human muscle map" which sheds more light on why adults get weaker as they age.

The research from Cambridge's Wellcome Sanger Institute and Sun Yat-sen University in China offers hope to improve muscle health and quality of life in old age.

Weakening muscles can affect our ability to perform everyday activities such as standing up and walking.

For some people, muscle loss can lead to falls, immobility and a condition called sarcopenia.

The study, published in Nature Ageing, may help explain why some muscle fibres age faster than others.

Dr Sarah Teichmann, senior author of the study from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “With these new insights into healthy skeletal muscle ageing, researchers all over the world can now explore ways to combat inflammation, boost muscle regeneration, preserve nerve connectivity, and more.

“Discoveries from research like this have huge potential for developing therapeutic strategies that promote healthier ageing for future generations.”

Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge have created an atlas of ageing muscles in humans. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The research analysed muscle samples from 17 people aged 20 to 75.

By comparing the results they were able to compile a comprehensive atlas of ageing muscles in humans.

Dr Teichmann added: "Specifically we show that there are changes both in the muscle stem cells as well as the fast twitch and slow twitch muscles fibres, the neuromuscular junction and the immune cells that increasingly infiltrate the muscle tissue as we age."

Personal trainer James Wilkinson from Just Gym in Saffron Walden, Essex told ITV News Anglia strength training was important as people aged.

"The stuff that people need to be doing in different decades, isn't any different," he said.

"The idea of being able to do more jumping and fast movements might seem intimidating, but to stop the chance of falls and actually being able to absorb force quickly is actually really important."

Prof Hongbo Zhang, senior author of the study from Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China, said: “In China, the UK and other countries, we have ageing populations, but our understanding of the ageing process itself is limited.

“We now have a detailed view into how muscles strive to maintain function for as long as possible, despite the effects of ageing.”

The scientists discovered that genes controlling ribosomes - tiny structures responsible for producing proteins - were less active in muscle stem cells from aged samples.

This impairs the cells’ ability to repair and regenerate muscle fibres as the body ages.

They also identified a process in which immune cells are attracted to the muscle and exacerbate age-related muscle deterioration.

The study also found age-related loss of a specific fast-twitch muscle fibre, key for explosive muscle performance.

However, researchers also discovered for the first time several compensatory mechanisms from the muscles appearing to make up for the loss.

This study was part of the international Human Cell Atlas initiative to map every cell type in the human body, to transform understanding of health and disease.

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