Journal of Applied Physiology

Hindlimb suspension suppresses muscle growth and satellite cell proliferation

K. C. Darr, E. Schultz


The effects of long-term hindlimb unweighting by tail suspension on postnatal growth of 20-day rat extensor digitorum longus (EDL) and soleus muscles were studied. Morphological assay indicated that radial growth of soleus myofibers was completely inhibited between 3 and 10 days of suspension and reduced thereafter, leading to a severe attenuation (-76% from control) over the total experimental period. Longitudinal growth rate, however, was accelerated 40% over weight-bearing controls. In addition, myofibers were arranged parallel to the long axis of the muscle, an orientation associated with chronologically younger muscles, suggesting morphological maturation of the soleus muscle had been delayed by suspension. In contrast, radial and longitudinal growth of EDL myofibers were minimally affected under similar conditions and remained within approximately 5% of control at all times. Suspension also influenced the normal changes that occur in satellite cell and myonuclear populations during postnatal growth. Both the number and proliferative activity of satellite cells were severely reduced in individual myofibers after only 3 days in both soleus and EDL muscles. The reduced number of satellite cells within 3 days of initiating hindlimb suspension appeared to be the result of their incorporation into myofibers while the long-lasting reduction appeared to be the added effects of decreased proliferative activity. In the soleus, this reduction in number and proliferation of satellite cells persisted throughout the experimental period and resulted in an overall 43% fewer myonuclei and 45% fewer satellite cells than control at 50 days of age. In contrast, both the total number and mitotic activity of satellite cells in the EDL rapidly returned to weight-bearing control levels by day 10 of suspension, resulting in no overall reduction in myonuclear accretion.