Study proves ‘muscle memory’ exists at a DNA level

A study led by researchers has shown for the first time that human muscles possess a 'memory' of earlier growth -- at the DNA level.

Periods of skeletal muscle growth are 'remembered' by the genes in the muscle, helping them to grow larger later in life, according to Science Daily.

The research could have far-reaching implications for athletes caught using performance-enhancing muscle building drugs -- as the drugs could be creating long-lasting changes, making short-term bans inadequate.

 Using the latest genome wide techniques, the researchers studied over 850,000 sites on human DNA and discovered the genes 'marked' or 'unmarked' with special chemical 'tags' when muscle grows following exercise, then returns back to normal and then grows again following exercise in later life.

Known as epigenetic modifications, these 'markers' or 'tags' tell the gene whether it should be active or inactive, providing instructions to the gene to turn on or off without changing the DNA itself.

Dr Adam Sharples, the senior and corresponding author of the study and Senior Lecturer and his PhD student Mr Robert Seaborne explained:

"In this study, we've demonstrated the 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 -- demonstrating an epigenetic memory of earlier life muscle growth!"

The research has important implications in how athletes train, recover from injury, and also has potentially far-reaching consequences for athletes caught cheating.

Dr Sharples explained: "If an athlete's muscle grows, and then they get injured and lose some muscle, it may help their later recovery if we know the genes responsible for muscle 'memory'. Further research will be important to understand how different exercise programmes can help activate these muscle memory genes."

Mr Seaborne continued: "More research using drugs to build muscle, rather than exercise used in the present study, is required to confirm this."

N.H.Kh

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