Skeletal muscle deteriorates with aging, contributing to physical frailty, poor health outcomes, and increased risk of mortality. Denervation is a major driver of changes in aging muscle. This occurs through transient denervation-reinnervation events throughout the aging process that remodel the spatial domain of motor units and alter fiber type. In advanced age, reinnervation wanes, leading to persistent denervation that accelerates muscle atrophy and impaired muscle contractility. Alterations in the muscle fibers and motoneurons are both likely involved in driving denervation through destabilization of the neuromuscular junction. In this respect, mitochondria are implicated in aging and age-related neurodegenerative disorders, and are also likely key to aging muscle changes through their direct effects in muscle fibers and through secondary effects mediated by mitochondrial impairments in motoneurons. Indeed, the large abundance of mitochondria in muscle fibers and motoneurons, that are further concentrated on both sides of the neuromuscular junction, likely renders the neuromuscular junction especially vulnerable to age-related mitochondrial dysfunction. Manifestations of mitochondrial dysfunction with aging include impaired respiratory function, elevated reactive oxygen species production, and increased susceptibility to permeability transition, contributing to reduced ATP generating capacity, oxidative damage, and apoptotic signaling, respectively. Using this framework, in this review we summarize our current knowledge, and relevant gaps, concerning the potential impact of mitochondrial impairment on the aging neuromuscular junction, and the mechanisms involved.
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