Skeletal muscle proteins are constantly being synthesized and degraded, and the net balance between synthesis and degradation determines the resultant muscle mass. Biochemical pathways that control protein synthesis are complex, and the following must be considered: gene transcription, mRNA splicing, and transport to the cytoplasm; specific amino acyl-tRNA, messenger (mRNA), ribosomal (rRNA) availability; amino acid availability within the cell; the hormonal milieu; rates of mRNA translation; packaging in vesicles for some types of proteins; and post-translational processing such as glycation and phosphorylation/dephosphorylation. Each of these processes is responsive to the need for greater or lesser production of new proteins, and many states such as sepsis, uncontrolled diabetes, prolonged bed-rest, aging, chronic alcohol treatment, and starvation cause marked reductions in rates of skeletal muscle protein synthesis. In contrast, acute and chronic resistance exercise cause elevations in rates of muscle protein synthesis above rates found in nondiseased rested organisms, which are normally fed. Resistance exercise may be unique in this capacity. This chapter focuses on studies that have used exercise to elucidate mechanisms that explain elevations in rates of protein synthesis. Very few studies have investigated the effects of aging on these mechanisms; however, the literature that is available is reviewed.
The author is the Director of the Noll Physiological Research Center at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16801.