Mechanical loading recovers bone but not muscle lost during unloading

Andrew R. Krause, Toni A. Speacht, Jennifer L. Steiner, Charles H. Lang, Henry J. Donahue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Space travel and prolonged bed rest are examples of mechanical unloading that induce significant muscle and bone loss. The compromised structure and function of bone and muscle owing to unloading make the reloading period a high risk for injury. To explore interactions between skeletal bone and muscle during reloading, we hypothesized that acute external mechanical loading of bone in combination with re-ambulation facilitates the proportional recovery of bone and muscle lost during hind limb suspension (HLS) unloading. Adult male C57Bl/6J mice were randomly assigned to a HLS or time-matched ground control (GC) group. After 2-weeks of HLS, separate groups of mice were studied at day 14 (no re-ambulation), day 28 (14 days re-ambulation) and day 56 (42 days re-ambulation); throughout the re-ambulation period, one limb received compressive mechanical loading and the contralateral limb served as an internal control. HLS induced loss of trabecular bone volume (BV/TV; −51 ± 2%) and muscle weight (−15 ± 2%) compared to GC at day 14. At day 28, the left tibia (re-ambulation only) of HLS mice had recovered approximately 20% of BV/TV lost during HLS, while the right tibia (re-ambulation and acute external mechanical loading) recovered to GC values of BV/TV (~100% recovery). At day 56, the right tibia continued to recover bone for some outcomes (trabecular BV/TV, trabecular thickness), while the left limb did not. Cortical bone displayed a delayed response to HLS, with a 10% greater decrease in BV/TV at day 28 compared to day 14. In contrast to bone, acute external mechanical loading during the re-ambulation period did not significantly increase muscle mass or protein synthesis in the gastrocnemius, compared to re-ambulation alone. Our results suggest acute external mechanical loading facilitates the recovery of bone during reloading following HLS unloading, but this does not translate to a concomitant recovery of muscle mass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
Journalnpj Microgravity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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