A robust neuromuscular system protects rat and human skeletal muscle from sarcopenia
Declining muscle mass and function is one of the main drivers of loss of independence in the elderly. Sarcopenia is associated with numerous cellular and endocrine perturbations, and it remains challenging to identify those changes that play a causal role and could serve as targets for therapeutic intervention. In this study, we uncovered a remarkable differential susceptibility of certain muscles to age-related decline. Aging rats specifically lose muscle mass and function in the hindlimbs, but not in the forelimbs. By performing a comprehensive comparative analysis of these muscles, we demonstrate that regional susceptibility to sarcopenia is dependent on neuromuscular junction fragmentation, loss of motoneuron innervation, and reduced excitability. Remarkably, muscle loss in elderly humans also differs in vastus lateralis and tibialis anterior muscles in direct relation to neuromuscular dysfunction. By comparing gene expression in susceptible and non-susceptible muscles, we identified a specific transcriptomic signature of neuromuscular impairment. Importantly, differential molecular profiling of the associated peripheral nerves revealed fundamental changes in cholesterol biosynthetic pathways. Altogether our results provide compelling evidence that susceptibility to sarcopenia is tightly linked to neuromuscular decline in rats and humans, and identify dysregulation of sterol metabolism in the peripheral nervous system as an early event in this process.