Changes in the skeletal muscle protein mass frequently occur in both physiological and pathological states. Muscle hypotrophy, in particular, is commonly observed during aging and is characteristic of several pathological conditions such as neurological diseases, cancer, diabetes, and sepsis. The skeletal muscle protein content depends on the relative rates of synthesis and degradation, which must be coordinately regulated to maintain the equilibrium. Pathological muscle depletion is characterized by a negative nitrogen balance, which results from disruption of this equilibrium due to reduced synthesis, increased breakdown, or both. The current view, mainly based on experimental data, considers hypercatabolism as the major cause of muscle protein depletion. Several signaling pathways that probably contribute to muscle atrophy have been identified, and there is increasing evidence that oxidative stress, due to reactive oxygen species production overwhelming the intracellular antioxidant systems, plays a role in causing muscle depletion both during aging and in chronic pathological states. In particular, oxidative stress has been proposed to enhance protein breakdown, directly or by interacting with other factors. This review focuses on the possibility of using antioxidant treatments to target molecular pathways involved in the pathogenesis of skeletal muscle wasting.
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