University Of Texas Southwestern Researchers Find Genetic Switch That Explains Effect Of Exercise On Muscles

DALLAS, Texas, Aug. 20, 1998--The creation of a drug that would mimic some of the health-promoting benefits of regular exercise could be possible because UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas researchers have found a genetic switch that tells muscles how to behave.

UT Southwestern scientists have found the molecular pathway that tells muscle fiber to be either the fast strength muscle seen in weight lifters or the slow endurance muscle developed by aerobic enthusiasts. Using cultured muscle cells, investigators, led by Dr. R. Sanders Williams, chief of cardiology and director of the Frank M. Ryburn Jr. Cardiac Center, delineated a biochemical-signaling mechanism that converts one muscle-fiber type to another. The findings were reported today in the journal of Genes and Development.

This discovery could make it possible to restore endurance muscle tissue in people who have lost it due to congestive heart failure. People with diabetes might also benefit from a drug that would enhance slow endurance-promoting muscle, which is more sensitive to insulin.

"We believe this pathway provides a molecular explanation for the important effects of aerobic exercise in increasing physical endurance and reducing risk for cardiovascular disease," Williams said. "When people go jogging, molecular events happen in the muscles they are exercising that both enhance their capability to exercise further and improve their health.

"We have shown both in cultured cells and in animals that there is a signaling pathway we can modify to stimulate or reverse what exercise does naturally. We believe it is possible to design a drug which would have this effect."

The study provides evidence that three proteins called calcineurin, NFAT (Nuclear Factor of Activated T cells) and MEF2 (Myocyte Enhancer Factor 2) participate in a pathway that activates a specific subset of genes. These regulatory factors act in concert to control the abundance of proteins found in slow, ox

Contact: Susan Steeves
(214) 648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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