Scientists identify muscle-strength gene activated by exercise

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Scientists have discovered a gene, activated by exercise, which is responsible for building muscle strength. The find also opens the possibility of treatments that offer some of the health benefits even without exercise.

It’s no secret that exercising strengthens muscle and improves overall health, but the specific mechanisms by which it works are complex and can be difficult to untangle. For the new study, researchers at the Universities of Melbourne and Copenhagen investigated the molecular signaling responses in muscles before, during and after different types of exercise.

“To identify how genes and proteins are activated during and after different exercises, we performed an analysis of human skeletal muscle from a cross-over intervention of endurance, sprint and resistance exercise,” said Dr Benjamin Parker, lead author of the study.

From this, the team analyzed how signaling responses in muscle changed after different types of exercise in an individual person, as well as how consistent those changes were across a range of people. From this, they identified a previously uncharacterized gene called C18ORF25, which was among those activated most often.

When the team engineered mice to lack this gene, the animals developed smaller skeletal muscle fibers, which translated to weaker muscles and reduced exercise performance. Inversely, when they ramped up the gene activity, the animals’ muscles became stronger.

There’s always the dream of an “exercise pill” that can bestow the health benefits without the hard work, but the researchers say that the study could have a wider range of potential applications.

“Identifying this gene may impact how we manage healthy aging, diseases of muscle atrophy, sports science and even livestock and meat production,” said Dr. Parker. “This is because promoting optimal muscle function is one of the best predictors of overall health. We know exercise can prevent and treat chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many cancers. Now, we hope that by better understanding how different types of exercise elicits these health promoting effects at the molecular level, the field can work towards making new and improved treatment options available.”

The research was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Source: University of Melbourne

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