Effects of aging and Parkinson's disease on motor unit remodeling: Influence of resistance exercise training

Neil A. Kelly, Kelley G. Hammond, C. Scott Bickel, Samuel T. Windham, S. Craig Tuggle, Marcas M. Bamman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Aging muscle atrophy is in part a neurodegenerative process revealed by denervation/reinnervation events leading to motor unit remodeling (i.e., myofiber type grouping). However, this process and its physiological relevance are poorly understood, as is the wide-ranging heterogeneity among aging humans. Here, we attempted to address 1) the relation between myofiber type grouping and molecular regulators of neuromuscular junction (NMJ) stability; 2) the impact of motor unit remodeling on recruitment during submaximal contractions; 3) the prevalence and impact of motor unit remodeling in Parkinson's disease (PD), an age-related neurodegenerative disease; and 4) the influence of resistance exercise training (RT) on regulators of motor unit remodeling. We compared type I myofiber grouping, molecular regulators of NMJ stability, and the relative motor unit activation (MUA) requirement during a submaximal sit-to-stand task among untrained but otherwise healthy young (YA; 26 yr, n = 27) and older (OA; 66 yr, n = 91) adults and OA with PD (PD; 67 yr, n = 19). We tested the effects of RT on these outcomes in OA and PD. PD displayed more motor unit remodeling, alterations in NMJ stability regulation, and a higher relative MUA requirement than OA, suggesting PD-specific effects. The molecular and physiological outcomes tracked with the severity of type I myofiber grouping. Together these findings suggest that age-related motor unit remodeling, manifested by type I myofiber grouping, 1) reduces MUA efficiency to meet submaximal contraction demand, 2) is associated with disruptions in NMJ stability, 3) is further impacted by PD, and 4) may be improved by RT in severe cases. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Because the physiological consequences of varying amounts of myofiber type grouping are unknown, the current study aims to characterize the molecular and physiological correlates of motor unit remodeling. Furthermore, because exercise training has demonstrated neuromuscular benefits in aged humans and improved innervation status and neuromuscular junction integrity in animals, we provide an exploratory analysis of the effects of highintensity resistance training on markers of neuromuscular degeneration in both Parkinson's disease (PD) and age-matched older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)888-898
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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