Muscle disuse atrophy is not accompanied by changes in skeletal muscle satellite cell content

T. Snijders, B.T. Wall, M.L. Dirks, J.M.G. Senden, F. Hartgens, J. Dolmans, M. Losen, L.B. Verdijk, L.J. van Loon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Muscle disuse leads to a considerable loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. However, the cellular mechanisms underlying disuse-induced muscle fibre atrophy remain to be elucidated. Therefore, we assessed the impact of muscle disuse on quadriceps muscle cross-sectional area (CSA), muscle fibre size and satellite cell content, and associated myocellular signalling pathways. Methods: Twelve healthy, young (24+/-1 y) men were subjected to 2 wks of one-legged knee immobilisation via a full leg cast. Before and immediately after the immobilisation period and after six weeks of natural rehabilitation, muscle strength (one-repetition maximum), muscle cross-sectional area (single slice CT-scan), and muscle fibre type characteristics (muscle biopsies) were assessed. Protein and/or mRNA expression of key genes (i.e. MyoD, myogenin and myostatin) in the satellite cell regulatory pathways were determined using Western blotting and rtPCR analyses, respectively. Results: Quadriceps CSA declined following immobilisation by 8+/-2% (P<0.05). In line, both type I and type II muscle fibre size decreased by 7+/-3% and 13+/-4%, respectively (P<0.05). No changes were observed in satellite cell content following immobilisation in either type I or type II muscle fibres. Muscle myogenin mRNA expression had doubled (P<0.05) while myostatin protein expression had decreased by 30+/-9% (P<0.05) following immobilisation. Muscle mass and strength returned to baseline values within six weeks of recovery without any specific rehabilitative program. Conclusion: Two weeks of muscle disuse leads to considerable loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. The loss of muscle mass is attributed to both type I and type II muscle fibre atrophy, and is not accompanied by a decline in satellite cell content.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-566
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Science
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


  • disuse atrophy
  • immobilization
  • muscle stem cell
  • myostatin
  • quadriceps muscle
  • MASS

Cite this