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The influence of sex, age and heritability on human skeletal muscle carnosine content

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The dipeptide carnosine is found in high concentrations in human skeletal muscle and shows large inter-individual differences. Sex and age are determining factors, however, systematic studies investigating the sex effects on muscle carnosine content throughout the human lifespan are lacking. Despite the large inter-individual variation, the intra-individual variation is limited. The question may be asked whether the carnosine content is a muscle characteristic which may be largely genetically determined. A total of 263 healthy male and female subjects of 9–83 years were divided into five different age groups: prepubertal children (PC), adolescents (A), young adults (YA), middle adults (MA) and elderly (E). We included 25 monozygotic and 22 dizygotic twin pairs among the entire study population to study the heritability. The carnosine content was measured non-invasively in the gastrocnemius medialis and soleus by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS). In boys, carnosine content was significantly higher (gastrocnemius 22.9%; soleus 44.6%) in A compared to PC, while it did not differ in girls. A decrease (~16%) was observed both in males and females from YA to MA. However, elderly did not have lower carnosine levels in comparison with MA. Higher correlations were found in monozygotic (r = 0.86) compared to dizygotic (r = 0.51) twins, in soleus muscle, but not in gastrocnemius. In conclusion, this study found an effect of puberty on muscle carnosine content in males, but not in females. Muscle carnosine decreased mainly during early adulthood and hardly from adulthood to elderly. High intra-twin correlations were observed, but muscle-dependent differences preclude clear conclusions toward heritability.

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This study was financially supported by a grant from the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO and G024311 N). A. Baguet is a recipient of a PhD scholarship from the Research Foundation-Flanders.

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Correspondence to Wim Derave.

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Baguet, A., Everaert, I., Achten, E. et al. The influence of sex, age and heritability on human skeletal muscle carnosine content. Amino Acids 43, 13–20 (2012).

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