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Exercise's Epigenetic Effects

Exercise can exert an effect on the epigenetic status of enhancers, according to researchers from the Karolinska Institutet.

As they report in Epigenetics, the Karolinska's Carl Johan Sundberg and his colleagues recruited 23 volunteers to undergo exercise training for three months — though just on one leg. That way, notes Gretchen Reynolds at the New York Times Well blog, other factors influencing methylation patterns would be controlled for.

The researchers compared muscle biopsies taken from the exercised and unexercised legs both before and after training. From this, they noted differential DNA methylation on enhancers and changes in gene expression of muscle-cell related genes. For instance, they observed that the differentially methylated sites were overrepresented for functional categories like cellular carbohydrate metabolism regulation and structural remodeling. This suggested to the researchers that transcriptional changes in skeletal muscle due to exercise are linked to DNA methylation changes.

"Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money," first author Maléne Lindholm tells the Well blog, "we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life."