How Sex Hormones Promote Skeletal Muscle Regeneration


Skeletal muscle regeneration efficiency declines with age for both men and women. This decline impacts on functional capabilities in the elderly and limits their ability to engage in regular physical activity and to maintain independence. Aging is associated with a decline in sex hormone production. Therefore, elucidating the effects of sex hormone substitution on skeletal muscle homeostasis and regeneration after injury or disuse is highly relevant for the aging population, where sarcopenia affects more than 30 % of individuals over 60 years of age. While the anabolic effects of androgens are well known, the effects of estrogens on skeletal muscle anabolism have only been uncovered in recent times. Hence, the purpose of this review is to provide a mechanistic insight into the regulation of skeletal muscle regenerative processes by both androgens and estrogens. Animal studies using estrogen receptor (ER) antagonists and receptor subtype selective agonists have revealed that estrogens act through both genomic and non-genomic pathways to reduce leukocyte invasion and increase satellite cell numbers in regenerating skeletal muscle tissue. Although animal studies have been more conclusive than human studies in establishing a role for sex hormones in the attenuation of muscle damage, data from a number of recent well controlled human studies is presented to support the notion that hormonal therapies and exercise induce added positive effects on functional measures and lean tissue mass. Based on the fact that aging human skeletal muscle retains the ability to adapt to exercise with enhanced satellite cell activation, combining sex hormone therapies with exercise may induce additive effects on satellite cell accretion. There is evidence to suggest that there is a ‘window of opportunity’ after the onset of a hypogonadal state such as menopause, to initiate a hormonal therapy in order to achieve maximal benefits for skeletal muscle health. Novel receptor subtype selective ligands and selective estrogen and androgen receptor modulators (SERMs, SARMs) promise to reduce health risks associated with classical hormonal therapies, whilst maintaining the positive effects on muscle repair. Dietary supplements containing compounds with structural similarity to estrogens (phytoestrogens) are increasingly used as alternatives to classical hormone-replacement therapies (HRT), but the effects on skeletal muscle are currently largely unknown. Research has started to investigate the combined effects of exercise and alternative HRTs, such as soy isoflavones, on skeletal muscle regenerative processes to provide safer and more efficient therapies to promote muscle regeneration and maintenance of muscle mass and strength in the aging population.

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Correspondence to Martina Velders.

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Velders, M., Diel, P. How Sex Hormones Promote Skeletal Muscle Regeneration. Sports Med 43, 1089–1100 (2013).

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  • Androgen Receptor
  • Genistein
  • Satellite Cell
  • Muscle Damage
  • Eccentric Exercise