The concept of skeletal muscle memory: Evidence from animal and human studies Journal Articles uri icon

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  • AbstractWithin the current paradigm of the myonuclear domain theory, it is postulated that a linear relationship exists between muscle fibre size and myonuclear content. The myonuclear domain is kept (relatively) constant by adding additional nuclei (supplied by muscle satellite cells) during muscle fibre hypertrophy and nuclear loss (by apoptosis) during muscle fibre atrophy. However, data from recent animal studies suggest that myonuclei that are added to support muscle fibre hypertrophy are not lost within various muscle atrophy models. Such myonuclear permanence has been suggested to constitute a mechanism allowing the muscle fibre to (re)grow more efficiently during retraining, a phenomenon referred to as “muscle memory.” The concept of “muscle memory by myonuclear permanence” has mainly been based on data attained from rodent experimental models. Whether the postulated mechanism also holds true in humans remains largely ambiguous. Nevertheless, there are several studies in humans that provide evidence to potentially support or contradict (parts of) the muscle memory hypothesis. The goal of the present review was to discuss the evidence for the existence of “muscle memory” in both animal and human models of muscle fibre hypertrophy as well as atrophy. Furthermore, to provide additional insight in the potential presence of muscle memory by myonuclear permanence in humans, we present new data on previously performed exercise training studies. Finally, suggestions for future research are provided to establish whether muscle memory really exists in humans.


  • Snijders, Tim
  • Aussieker, Thorben
  • Holwerda, Andy
  • Parise, Gianni
  • van Loon, Luc JC
  • Verdijk, Lex B

publication date

  • July 2020