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McMaster researchers uncover key to preserving muscle strength with aging

Researchers Steinberg (left) and Adam Bujak holding a mouse lacking AMPK in its muscle.
Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., may have uncovered the body’s secret to physically aging well and keeping muscle strength in tact.

June 2, 2015  By Massage Therapy Canada staff

Through the recent discovery of a key protein required to maintain
muscle mass and strength as people age, researchers at McMaster may help
provide some understanding about what causes people to lose muscle
strength as they age and how exercise can prevent it from happening.

important finding means new and existing drugs targeting the protein
may potentially be used to preserve muscle function during aging, a
release from McMaster University stated.

“We found that the
body’s fuel gauge, AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), is vital to slow
muscle wasting with aging," said Gregory Steinberg, the study’s senior
author and professor of medicine at the Michael G. DeGroote School of
Medicine. He is also co-director of MAC-Obesity, the Metabolism and
Childhood Obesity Research Program at McMaster.

“Mice lacking
AMPK in their muscle developed much greater muscle weakness than we
would have expected to see in a middle-aged mouse,” said Steinberg.
“Instead these mice, which were the equivalent of being just 50 years
old, had muscles like that of an inactive 100-year-old.”


The research was published Tuesday, June 2nd, in Cell Metabolism
and involved members of the MAC-Obesity research team. The lead author
is Adam Bujak, a PhD student of McMaster’s Medical Sciences Graduate

“It is known that AMPK activity in muscle is ‘dialed
down’ with aging in humans, so this may be an important cause of muscle
loss during aging,” Steinberg said.

Previous research by
Steinberg’s team has shown that this “metabolic switch” is turned on
with exercise as well as commonly used medications including metformin
and salicylate (the active ingredient in Aspirin).

Despite the
importance of maintaining muscle function and strength as people age,
there is currently no treatment besides exercise. With an aging
population, age-related muscle wasting and loss of muscle strength is a
growing issue that shortens lives and creates a significant financial
burden on the Canadian health-care system, McMaster said.

know we can turn on the AMPK pathway with intense exercise and commonly
used Type 2 diabetes medications,” said Steinberg. “By knowing that AMPK
is vital for maintaining muscle mass with aging, we can now try to
adapt exercise regimes and existing drugs to switch on AMPK in muscle
more effectively. The development of new selective activators of the
AMPK pathway in muscle may also be effective to prevent muscle loss with

This study was conducted over four years and was
supported by the Natural Sciences Engineering Research Council, Canadian
Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Foundation for Innovation,
Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, and the
MAC-Obesity Research Program. (Photo: Researchers Steinberg (left) and Adam Bujak holding a mouse lacking AMPK in its muscle / Photo credit: McMaster University)

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