Skeletal muscle mass increases during postnatal development through a process of hypertrophy, i.e. enlargement of individual muscle fibers, and a similar process may be induced in adult skeletal muscle in response to contractile activity, such as strength exercise, and specific hormones, such as androgens and β-adrenergic agonists. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the overall rates of protein synthesis exceed the rates of protein degradation. Two major signaling pathways control protein synthesis, the IGF1-Akt-mTOR pathway, acting as a positive regulator, and the myostatin-Smad2/3 pathway, acting as a negative regulator, and additional pathways have recently been identified. Proliferation and fusion of satellite cells, leading to an increase in the number of myonuclei, may also contribute to muscle growth during early but not late stages of postnatal development and in some forms of muscle hypertrophy in the adult. Muscle atrophy occurs when protein degradation rates exceed protein synthesis, and may be induced in adult skeletal muscle in a variety of conditions, including starvation, denervation, cancer cachexia, heart failure and aging. Two major protein degradation pathways, the proteasomal and the autophagic-lysosomal pathways, are activated during muscle atrophy and variably contribute to the loss of muscle mass. These pathways involve a variety of atrophy-related genes or atrogenes, which are controlled by specific transcription factors, such as FoxO3, which is negatively regulated by Akt, and NF-κB, which is activated by inflammatory cytokines. © 2013 The Authors Journal compilation © 2013 FEBS.