Exercise triggers stem cells in muscle

University of Illinois researchers determined that an adult stem cell present in muscle is responsive to exercise, a discovery that may provide a link between exercise and muscle health. The findings could lead to new therapeutic techniques using these cells to rehabilitate injured muscle and prevent or restore muscle loss with age.

 
Mesenchymal stem cells (green) accumulate in skeletal muscle following exercise and release growth factors to spur regeneration. Photo credit: Marni Boppart

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in skeletal muscle have been known to be important for muscle repair in response to non-physiological injury, predominantly in response to chemical injections that significantly damage muscle tissue and induce inflammation.

The researchers, led by kinesiology and community health professor Marni Boppart, investigated whether MSCs also responded to strain during exercise, and if so, how.

''Since exercise can induce some injury as part of the remodeling process following mechanical strain, we wondered if MSC accumulation was a natural response to exercise and whether these cells contributed to the beneficial regeneration and growth process that occurs post-exercise,'' said Boppart, who also is affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois.

The researchers found that MSCs in muscle are very responsive to mechanical strain. They witnessed MSC accumulation in muscle of mice after vigorous exercise. Then, they determined that although MSCs don't directly contribute to building new muscle fibers, they release growth factors that spur other cells in muscle to fuse and generate new muscle, providing the cellular basis for enhanced muscle health following exercise.

A key element to the Illinois team's method was in exercising the mice before isolating the cells to trigger secretion of beneficial growth factors. Then, they dyed the cells with a fluorescent marker and injected them into other mice to see how MSCs coordinated with other muscle-building cells.