Bone mass and skeletal muscle mass are controlled by factors such as genetics, diet and nutrition, growth factors and mechanical stimuli. Whereas increased mechanical loading of the musculoskeletal system stimulates an increase in the mass and strength of skeletal muscle and bone, reduced mechanical loading and disuse rapidly promote a decrease in musculoskeletal mass, strength and ultimately performance (i.e. muscle atrophy and osteoporosis). In stark contrast to artificially immobilised laboratory mammals, animals that experience natural, prolonged bouts of disuse and reduced mechanical loading, such as hibernating mammals and aestivating frogs, consistently exhibit limited or no change in musculoskeletal performance. What factors modulate skeletal muscle and bone mass, and what physiological and molecular mechanisms protect against losses of muscle and bone during dormancy and following arousal? Understanding the events that occur in different organisms that undergo natural periods of prolonged disuse and suffer negligible musculoskeletal deterioration could not only reveal novel regulatory factors but also might lead to new therapeutic options. Here, we review recent work from a diverse array of species that has revealed novel information regarding physiological and molecular mechanisms that dormant animals may use to conserve musculoskeletal mass despite prolonged inactivity. By highlighting some of the differences and similarities in musculoskeletal biology between vertebrates that experience disparate modes of dormancy, it is hoped that this Review will stimulate new insights and ideas for future studies regarding the regulation of atrophy and osteoporosis in both natural and clinical models of muscle and bone disuse.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd