Development and Regeneration of Muscle Tissue

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the function of satellite cells
  • Define fibrosis
  • Explain which muscle has the greatest regeneration ability

Most muscle tissue of the body arises from embryonic mesoderm. Paraxial mesodermal cells adjacent to the neural tube form blocks of cells called somites. Skeletal muscles, excluding those of the head and limbs, develop from mesodermal somites, whereas skeletal muscle in the head and limbs develop from general mesoderm. Somites give rise to myoblasts. A myoblast is a muscle-forming stem cell that migrates to different regions in the body and then fuse(s) to form a syncytium, or myotube. As a myotube is formed from many different myoblast cells, it contains many nuclei, but has a continuous cytoplasm. This is why skeletal muscle cells are multinucleate, as the nucleus of each contributing myoblast remains intact in the mature skeletal muscle cell. However, cardiac and smooth muscle cells are not multinucleate because the myoblasts that form their cells do not fuse.

Gap junctions develop in the cardiac and single-unit smooth muscle in the early stages of development. In skeletal muscles, ACh receptors are initially present along most of the surface of the myoblasts, but spinal nerve innervation causes the release of growth factors that stimulate the formation of motor end-plates and NMJs. As neurons become active, electrical signals that are sent through the muscle influence the distribution of slow and fast fibers in the muscle.

Although the number of muscle cells is set during development, satellite cells help to repair skeletal muscle cells. A satellite cell is similar to a myoblast because it is a type of stem cell; however, satellite cells are incorporated into muscle cells and facilitate the protein synthesis required for repair and growth. These cells are located outside the sarcolemma and are stimulated to grow and fuse with muscle cells by growth factors that are released by muscle fibers under certain forms of stress. Satellite cells can regenerate muscle fibers to a very limited extent, but they primarily help to repair damage in living cells. If a cell is damaged to a greater extent than can be repaired by satellite cells, the muscle fibers are replaced by scar tissue in a process called fibrosis. Because scar tissue cannot contract, muscle that has sustained significant damage loses strength and cannot produce the same amount of power or endurance as it could before being damaged.

Smooth muscle tissue can regenerate from a type of stem cell called a pericyte, which is found in some small blood vessels. Pericytes allow smooth muscle cells to regenerate and repair much more readily than skeletal and cardiac muscle tissue. Similar to skeletal muscle tissue, cardiac muscle does not regenerate to a great extent. Dead cardiac muscle tissue is replaced by scar tissue, which cannot contract. As scar tissue accumulates, the heart loses its ability to pump because of the loss of contractile power. However, some minor regeneration may occur due to stem cells found in the blood that occasionally enter cardiac tissue.

Career Connections: Physical Therapist

As muscle cells die, they are not regenerated but instead are replaced by connective tissue and adipose tissue, which do not possess the contractile abilities of muscle tissue. Muscles atrophy when they are not used, and over time if atrophy is prolonged, muscle cells die. It is therefore important that those who are susceptible to muscle atrophy exercise to maintain muscle function and prevent the complete loss of muscle tissue. In extreme cases, when movement is not possible, electrical stimulation can be introduced to a muscle from an external source. This acts as a substitute for endogenous neural stimulation, stimulating the muscle to contract and preventing the loss of proteins that occurs with a lack of use.

Physiotherapists work with patients to maintain muscles. They are trained to target muscles susceptible to atrophy, and to prescribe and monitor exercises designed to stimulate those muscles. There are various causes of atrophy, including mechanical injury, disease, and age. After breaking a limb or undergoing surgery, muscle use is impaired and can lead to disuse atrophy. If the muscles are not exercised, this atrophy can lead to long-term muscle weakness. A stroke can also cause muscle impairment by interrupting neural stimulation to certain muscles. Without neural inputs, these muscles do not contract and thus begin to lose structural proteins. Exercising these muscles can help to restore muscle function and minimize functional impairments. Age-related muscle loss is also a target of physical therapy, as exercise can reduce the effects of age-related atrophy and improve muscle function.

The goal of a physiotherapist is to improve physical functioning and reduce functional impairments; this is achieved by understanding the cause of muscle impairment and assessing the capabilities of a patient, after which a program to enhance these capabilities is designed. Some factors that are assessed include strength, balance, and endurance, which are continually monitored as exercises are introduced to track improvements in muscle function. Physiotherapists can also instruct patients on the proper use of equipment, such as crutches, and assess whether someone has sufficient strength to use the equipment and when they can function without it.