By Udita Shukla
Researchers at the Keele University have discovered an unexpected characteristic of our muscles, called muscle memory. The study has found that certain genes in the DNA of human muscles ‘remember’ their earlier growth patterns. Muscles can grow larger later in life, courtesy of the ‘smart’ genes.
Details of the study
Published in the Scientific Reports, the study unveils the astounding activity of over 850,000 genes on human DNA that store information by tagging or untagging themselves with special chemical signatures following exercise. After a temporary expansion during exercise, the muscle shrinks back in size but can grow again later in life due to its ‘memory’ of growth during physical exercise.
Known as epigenetic modifications, the chemical tags inform a gene whether to be active or inactive. This allows particular genes to behave in a particular way without manipulating the DNA itself.
In the words of Dr. Adam Sharples, the senior author of the study and senior lecturer in Cell and Molecular Muscle Physiology at Keele University, “Genes in muscle become more untagged with this epigenetic information when it grows following exercise in earlier life, importantly these genes remain untagged even when we lose muscle again, but this untagging helps ‘switch’ the gene on to a greater extent and is associated with greater muscle growth in response to exercise in later life.”
The findings may impact the field of molecular physiology, that is, sports and athletics. Since muscle expansion is the trigger that switches a gene on or off, athletes who employ performance-enhancing drugs, unwittingly ‘awaken’ the genes that reside in the target muscle.
It now appears that such players can keep benefit from a drug taken in the past, as their muscles may preserve the memory of prior growth. Consequently, a temporary ban on such drugs does no more than a short-term hiatus from physical exercise would. Although a further investigation into the impact of drug-taking on muscle growth is required to corroborate the findings, the research may render the current practice of short-lived bans insufficient.
On the other hand, an athlete losing muscle due to injury may benefit in later recovery if the genes involved in previous muscle growth can be identified. This makes research into the usefulness of different exercise programmes to stimulate muscle memory all the more important.
Research into the dynamics of the human body at the genetic level is a gateway to consolidating our understanding of how natural healing processes work. It could also identify diseases that happen as a result of gene mutation.
The latest genome research techniques employed by the scientists from Keele have opened up a new dimension in the area of tissue recovery, as it leverages the natural behaviour and of the genes that build DNA.
Muscle memory is reminiscent of involuntary body reflexes, such as the drumming of fingers to the tune of a long-forgotten song. The discovery of ‘smart’ muscle memory may provide an additional tool that will help with muscle recovery.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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