Physiology of a Microgravity Environment Invited Review: Microgravity and Skeletal Muscle

Document Type




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American Physiological Society

Source Publication

Journal of Applied Physiology

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Spaceflight (SF) has been shown to cause skeletal muscle atrophy; a loss in force and power; and, in the first few weeks, a preferential atrophy of extensors over flexors. The atrophy primarily results from a reduced protein synthesis that is likely triggered by the removal of the antigravity load. Contractile proteins are lost out of proportion to other cellular proteins, and the actin thin filament is lost disproportionately to the myosin thick filament. The decline in contractile protein explains the decrease in force per cross-sectional area, whereas the thin-filament loss may explain the observed postflight increase in the maximal velocity of shortening in the type I and IIa fiber types. Importantly, the microgravity-induced decline in peak power is partially offset by the increased fiber velocity. Muscle velocity is further increased by the microgravity-induced expression of fast-type myosin isozymes in slow fibers (hybrid I/II fibers) and by the increased expression of fast type II fiber types. SF increases the susceptibility of skeletal muscle to damage, with the actual damage elicited during postflight reloading. Evidence in rats indicates that SF increases fatigability and reduces the capacity for fat oxidation in skeletal muscles. Future studies will be required to establish the cellular and molecular mechanisms of the SF-induced muscle atrophy and functional loss and to develop effective exercise countermeasures.


Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 89, No. 2 (August 2000): 823-829. DOI.