The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation $3.4 million to study age-related muscle atrophy and weakness.
The five-year grant follows a discovery by OMRF scientists Holly Van Remmen, Ph.D., and Jacob Brown, Ph.D., connecting age-related muscle loss called sarcopenia to a missing nerve signal.
Most people begin to experience progressive loss of muscle mass and strength in their 30s or 40s. The condition becomes more pronounced after age 65, leaving older people susceptible to falls and difficulty performing daily tasks.
“It’s just a natural process of aging, and some people lose more muscle mass and strength than others,” said Brown, a scientist in Van Remmen’s lab.
While inactivity is the most common contributor to sarcopenia, Van Remmen’s team has shown another cause: denervation, which is an interruption in communication with the nerves that connect muscles to the spinal cord.
In recent work published in the journal Redox Biology, Van Remmen and Brown found that muscle makes a metabolite during denervation that leads to muscle atrophy. Metabolites are the products of chemical changes within a cell.
With the new grant, the researchers will study whether blocking the production of this metabolite protects against age-related muscle atrophy in research models.
“This is a novel area of research that we hope will lead to new possibilities to design much-needed pharmaceutical interventions,” said Van Remmen, who holds the G.T. Blankenship Chair in Aging Research. “Ultimately, we hope this path of research will extend the time that older adults can remain healthy and active.”
Without current drug options to treat sarcopenia, Van Remmen added that it’s important for older adults to ward off its progression by staying physically active and maintaining a healthy diet.
“Simple strength and resistance training paired with a diet that includes adequate amounts of healthy proteins can make a world of difference in maintaining muscle mass,” she said.
The research that led to the Redox Biology paper was funded by the National Institute on Aging grants P01AG051442 and T32AG052363 and by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grants 1IK6BX005234 and 1IK2BX005620-01A1. The new study is supported by NIA grant number 1R01AG077812-01A1.