Sequence of Age-Associated Changes to the Mouse Neuromuscular Junction and the Protective Effects of Voluntary Exercise

Anson Cheng, Marco Morsch, Yui Murata, Nazanin Ghazanfari, Stephen W. Reddel, William D. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Loss of connections between motor neurons and skeletal muscle fibers contribute to motor impairment in old age, but the sequence of age-associated changes that precede loss of the neuromuscular synapse remains uncertain. Here we determine changes in the size of neuromuscular synapses within the tibialis anterior muscle across the life span of C57BL/6J mice. Immunofluorescence, confocal microscopy and morphometry were used to measure the area occupied by nerve terminal synaptophysin staining and postsynaptic acetylcholine receptors at motor endplates of 2, 14, 19, 22, 25 and 28month old mice. The key findings were: 1) At middle age (14-months) endplate acetylcholine receptors occupied 238±11 μm2 and nerve terminal synaptophysin 168±14 μm2 (mean ± SEM). 2) Between 14-months and 19-months (onset of old age) the area occupied by postsynaptic acetylcholine receptors declined 30%. At many endplates the large acetylcholine receptor plaque became fragmented into multiple smaller acetylcholine receptor clusters. 3) Between 19- and 25-months, the fraction of endplate acetylcholine receptors covered by synaptophysin fell 21%. By 28-months, half of the endplates imaged retained ≤50 μm2 area of synaptophysin staining. 4) Within aged muscles, the degree to which an endplate remained covered by synaptophysin did not depend upon the total area of acetylcholine receptors, nor upon the number of discrete receptor clusters. 5) Voluntary wheel-running exercise, beginning late in middle-age, prevented much of the age-associated loss of nerve terminal synaptophysin. In summary, a decline in the area of endplate acetylcholine receptor clusters at the onset of old age was followed by loss of nerve terminal synaptophysin from the endplate. Voluntary running exercise, begun late in middle age, substantially inhibited the loss of nerve terminal from aging motor endplates.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere67970
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

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