Researchers have discovered a gene that enhances muscular strength when activated by physical activity, opening the door to the creation of therapeutic therapies that mirror some of the advantages of exercise.
The findings of the research were published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The study showed how different types of exercise change the molecules in our muscles, resulting in the discovery of the new C18ORF25 gene that is activated with all types of exercise and responsible for promoting muscle strength. Animals without C18ORF25 have poor exercise performance and weaker muscles.
Project lead Dr Benjamin Parker said by activating the C18ORF25 gene, the research team could see muscles become much stronger, without them becoming necessarily bigger.
"Identifying this gene may impact how we manage healthy ageing, diseases of muscle atrophy, sports science, and even livestock and meat production. This is because promoting optimal muscle function is one of the best predictors of overall health," Dr Parker said.
"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 elicit these health-promoting effects at the molecular level, the field can work towards making new and improved treatment options available."
In the study, a collaboration between Dr Parker and Professors Erik Richter and Bente Kiens of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the team was able to identify the molecular similarities and differences between different types of exercise in human muscle biopsies by analyzing proteins and how they change within cells.
"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," Dr Parker said.
The experimental design allowed researchers to compare signalling responses between the exercise modalities in the same individual relative to their pre-exercise level. This meant they could monitor how an individual responded to different types of exercise directly in their muscles.
Importantly, it also allowed the study team to identify genes and proteins that consistently change across all individuals and all types of exercise, leading to the discovery of the new gene.