Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Muscle growth due to exercise explained

It is commonly known that working out helps build up muscles. Specialized training schemes are available for body builders to help them obtain bulky muscles. Scientists from a French research institute have revealed what it is that helps muscles grow in response to exercise. The findings could have implications for manipulating their growth or recovery.

The key factor to muscle growth appears to be a protein known as Serum Response Factor (Srf). It is produced after mechanical work performed by muscle is detected, and functions as a a chemical signal that affects stem cells. In turn, this promotes the creation of new fibres, and thus increases muscle size. The role of Srf became clear after the scientists saw its quantity decline with age, and mice genetically engineered to lack Srf were found to be unable to grow muscle. However, too much Srf also negatively impacts muscle fibres, which shows there is a delicate balance.

Not only do the findings of the French scientists give us insight into a basic mechanism of life, it is also relevant for various diseases. Some people suffer from illnesses that impair muscle growth or repair, which has a significant impact on life. Srf may play an important role in such diseases, though the scientists note it is probably hard to manipulate it.

Because Srf affects a wide range of genes, we might be able to target one of them to fine-tune its activity, and improve recovery in patients suffering from deteriorating muscles, which is commonly described as muscle atrophy. One of its targets is already inhibited by a well-known drug, Ibuprofen. That means we may have a cheap and easy option to treat patients with faulty muscle repair.

The discovery of Srf's role is important because it might give rise to a whole new field of possible therapeutics for muscle disease. Because Srf is designed to provide a cue for stem cells to start proliferating and create new muscle, fine-tuning its network of targets should be aimed getting these cells to produce offspring. This could be done with the aid of the newfound knowledge on Srf's mechanism of action. Who knows, in the future we might be able to let muscles grow by letting our body think we're exercising.

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