Superoxide and nitric oxide are generated by skeletal muscle and these species are increased by contractile activity. Mitochondria have long been assumed to play the primary role in generation of superoxide in muscle but recent studies indicate that, during contractile activity, membrane-localized NADPH oxidase(s) rapidly generate(s) superoxide that plays a role in redox signaling.
This process is important in upregulation of rapid and specific cytoprotective responses that aid maintenance of cell viability following contractile activity, but the overall extent to which redox signaling contributes to regulation of muscle metabolism and homeostasis following contractile activity is currently unclear, as is identification of key redox-sensitive protein targets involved in these processes.
Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species have also been implicated in the loss of muscle mass and function that occurs with aging, although recent work has questioned whether oxidative damage plays a key role in these processes. A failure of redox signaling occurs in muscle during aging and may contribute to the age-related loss muscle fibers. Whether such changes in redox signaling reflect primary age-related changes or are secondary to the fundamental mechanisms is unclear. For instance, denervated muscle fibers within muscles from aged rodents or man appear to generate large amounts of mitochondrial hydrogen peroxide that could influence adjacent innervated fibers.
Thus, in this instance a ‘secondary’ source of reactive oxygen species may be potentially generated as a result of a primary age-related pathology (loss of neurons) but nevertheless may contribute to loss of muscle mass and function during aging.