Open Access Research article

Aging enhances serum cytokine response but not task-induced grip strength declines in a rat model of work-related musculoskeletal disorders

Dong L Xin1, Michelle Y Harris2, Christine K Wade3, Mamta Amin2, Ann E Barr4 and Mary F Barbe12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physical Therapy, Temple University, 3307 North Broad St., Philadelphia, PA, 19140, USA

2 Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Temple University School of Medicine, 3500 North Broad St., Philadelphia, PA, 19140, USA

3 Department of Physical Therapy, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, 19107, USA

4 Office of the Provost, Pacific University, Hillsboro, OR, 97123, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2011, 12:63  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-12-63

Published: 29 March 2011



We previously reported early tissue injury, increased serum and tissue inflammatory cytokines and decreased grip in young rats performing a moderate demand repetitive task. The tissue cytokine response was transient, the serum response and decreased grip were still evident by 8 weeks. Thus, here, we examined their levels at 12 weeks in young rats. Since aging is known to enhance serum cytokine levels, we also examined aged rats.


Aged and young rats, 14 mo and 2.5 mo of age at onset, respectfully, were trained 15 min/day for 4 weeks, and then performed a high repetition, low force (HRLF) reaching and grasping task for 2 hours/day, for 12 weeks. Serum was assayed for 6 cytokines: IL-1alpha, IL-6, IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, MIP2, IL-10. Grip strength was assayed, since we have previously shown an inverse correlation between grip strength and serum inflammatory cytokines. Results were compared to naïve (grip), and normal, food-restricted and trained-only controls.


Serum cytokines were higher overall in aged than young rats, with increases in IL-1alpha, IFN-gamma and IL-6 in aged Trained and 12-week HRLF rats, compared to young Trained and HRLF rats (p < 0.05 and p < 0.001, respectively, each). IL-6 was also increased in aged 12-week HRLF versus aged normal controls (p < 0.05). Serum IFN-gamma and MIP2 levels were also increased in young 6-week HRLF rats, but no cytokines were above baseline levels in young 12-week HRLF rats. Grip strength declined in both young and aged 12-week HRLF rats, compared to naïve and normal controls (p < 0.05 each), but these declines correlated only with IL-6 levels in aged rats (r = -0.39).


Aging enhanced a serum cytokine response in general, a response that was even greater with repetitive task performance. Grip strength was adversely affected by task performance in both age groups, but was apparently influenced by factors other than serum cytokine levels in young rats.