Cellular and molecular pathways controlling muscle size in response to exercise

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16 Citations (Scopus)


From the discovery of ATP and motor proteins to synaptic neurotransmitters and growth factor control of cell differentiation, skeletal muscle has provided an extreme model system in which to understand aspects of tissue function. Muscle is one of the few tissues that can undergo both increase and decrease in size during everyday life. Muscle size depends on its contractile activity, but the precise cellular and molecular pathway(s) by which the activity stimulus influences muscle size and strength remain unclear. Four correlates of muscle contraction could, in theory, regulate muscle growth: nerve-derived signals, cytoplasmic calcium dynamics, the rate of ATP consumption and physical force. Here, we summarise the evidence for and against each stimulus and what is known or remains unclear concerning their molecular signal transduction pathways and cellular effects. Skeletal muscle can grow in three ways, by generation of new syncytial fibres, addition of nuclei from muscle stem cells to existing fibres or increase in cytoplasmic volume/nucleus. Evidence suggests the latter two processes contribute to exercise-induced growth. Fibre growth requires increase in sarcolemmal surface area and cytoplasmic volume at different rates. It has long been known that high-force exercise is a particularly effective growth stimulus, but how this stimulus is sensed and drives coordinated growth that is appropriately scaled across organelles remains a mystery.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe FEBS journal
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Mar 2021


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