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Metabolic dysfunction and the development of physical frailty: an aging war of attrition

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Abstract

The World Health Organization recently declared 2021–2030 the decade of healthy aging. Such emphasis on healthy aging requires an understanding of the biologic challenges aging populations face. Physical frailty is a syndrome of vulnerability that puts a subset of older adults at high risk for adverse health outcomes including functional and cognitive decline, falls, hospitalization, and mortality. The physiology driving physical frailty is complex with age-related biological changes, dysregulated stress response systems, chronic inflammatory pathway activation, and altered energy metabolism all likely contributing. Indeed, a series of recent studies suggests circulating metabolomic distinctions can be made between frail and non-frail older adults. For example, marked restrictions on glycolytic and mitochondrial energy production have been independently observed in frail older adults and collectively appear to yield a reliance on the highly fatigable ATP-phosphocreatine (PCr) energy system. Further, there is evidence that age-associated impairments in the primary ATP generating systems (glycolysis, TCA cycle, electron transport) yield cumulative deficits and fail to adequately support the ATP-PCr system. This in turn may acutely contribute to several major components of the physical frailty phenotype including muscular fatigue, weakness, slow walking speed and, over time, result in low physical activity and accelerate reductions in lean body mass. This review describes specific age-associated metabolic declines and how they can collectively lead to metabolic inflexibility, ATP-PCr reliance, and the development of physical frailty. Further investigation remains necessary to understand the etiology of age-associated metabolic deficits and develop targeted preventive strategies that maintain robust metabolic health in older adults.

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Correspondence to Jeremy D. Walston.

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Fountain, W.A., Bopp, T.S., Bene, M. et al. Metabolic dysfunction and the development of physical frailty: an aging war of attrition. GeroScience (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-024-01101-7

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