Mechanical unloading has long been understood to contribute to rapid and substantial adaptations within skeletal muscle, most notably, muscle atrophy. Studies have often demonstrated that many of the alterations resulting from disuse are reversed with a reintroduction of load and have supported the concept of muscle plasticity. We hypothesized that adaptations during disuse and recovery were a repeatable/reproducible phenomenon, which we tested with repeated changes in mechanical load. Rats were assigned to one of the following five groups: animals undergoing one or two bouts of hindlimb unloading (28 days), with or without recovery (56 day), or control. Following the completion of their final time point, posterior crural muscles were studied. Muscle sizes were lower following 28 days of disuse but fully recovered with a 56-day reloading period, regardless of the number of disuse/recovery cycles. Mixed protein fractional synthesis rates consistently reflected mass and loading conditions (supported by anabolic signaling), whereas the myofibrillar protein synthesis response varied among muscles. Amino acid concentrations were assessed in the gastrocnemius free pool and did not correlate with muscle atrophy associated with mechanical unloading. Muscle collagen concentrations were higher following the second unloading period and remained elevated following 56 days of recovery. Anabolic responses to alterations in load are preserved throughout multiple perturbations, but repeated periods of unloading may cause additive strain to muscle structure (collagen). This study suggests that whereas mass and anabolism are reproducibly reflective of the loading environment, repeated exposure to unloading and/or reloading may impact the overall structural integrity of muscle. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Repeatability should be considered a component of skeletal muscle plasticity during atrophy and recovery. Muscle anabolism is equally affected during a first or second disuse bout and returns equally with adequate recovery. Elevated muscle collagen concentrations observed after the second unloading period suggest altered structural integrity with repeated disuse.
- Protein Synthesis
- Skeletal Muscle