Introduction: Both sarcopenia and spinal cord injury (SCI) are characterized by the loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. Despite obvious similarities in atrophy between both models, differences in muscle fiber size and satellite cell content may exist on a muscle fiber type–specific level.
Methods: In the present study, we compared skeletal muscle fiber characteristics between wheelchair-dependent young males with SCI (n = 8, 32 ± 4 yr), healthy elderly males (n = 8, 75 ± 2 yr), and young controls (n = 8, 31 ± 3 yr). Muscle biopsies were collected to determine skeletal muscle fiber type composition, fiber size, and satellite cell content.
Results: Severe atrophy and a shift toward approximately 90% Type II muscle fibers were observed in muscle obtained from males with SCI. Muscle fiber size was substantially smaller in both the SCI (Types I and II fibers) and elderly subjects (Type II fibers) when compared with the controls. Satellite cell content was substantially lower in the wheelchair-dependent SCI subjects in both the Types I and II muscle fibers (0.049 ± 0.019 and 0.050 ± 0.005 satellite cells per fiber, respectively) when compared with the young controls (0.104 ± 0.011 and 0.117 ± 0.009 satellite cells per fiber, respectively). In the elderly, the number of satellite cells was lower in the Type II muscle fibers only (0.042 ± 0.005 vs 0.117 ± 0.009 satellite cells per fiber in the elderly vs young controls, respectively).
Conclusion: This is the first study to show that muscle fiber atrophy as observed with SCI (Types I and II fibers) and aging (Type II fibers) is accompanied by a muscle fiber type–specific reduction in satellite cell content in humans.