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Physical activity good for your health, but what’s happening below the surface?

New grant from National Institutes of Health will allow U-M researchers to focus on molecular changes that occur during and after exercise

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan was recently awarded $8.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the molecular changes that occur during and after physical activity.

U-M is one of several centers throughout the United States to receive a grant from the NIH to participate in the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC). The 6-year funding will begin this month and will allow U-M to establish the Michigan Chemical Analysis Site within the Consortium.

The Consortium brings together multiple scientific disciplines, including exercise physiology, genomics, epigenetics, proteomics, metabolomics and computational sciences, to work together in a new and holistic way to determine the molecular changes that occur during and after physical activity in an attempt to identify the physiological pathways that lead to improved health and prevention of disease.

Burant
Charles Burant, M.D., Ph.D.

Charles Burant, M.D., Ph.D., professor of internal medicine and molecular and integrative physiology, and Jun Li, Ph.D., associate professor of human genetics and computational medicine and bioinformatics, will lead the Michigan effort.

The Michigan research team will work with four other chemical analysis sites to systematically analyze plasma and tissues collected from human participants and animals undergoing physical activity.

Although it is well known that physical activity is beneficial to the human body in many ways, little is known about the molecular mechanisms of exercise that lead to improved health. In past studies of physical activity and exercise, researchers focus on one or only a few outcomes, such as increased muscle mass, or changes in blood pressure or blood lipid levels.

The Consortium was created to assemble a comprehensive map of the proteins, peptides, circulating nucleic acids, lipids, hormones and other molecules that change during acute exercise and following exercising training. These are the signals that are most likely to convey the effects of exercise throughout the body. The Consortium will study up to 3,000 individuals, including analyzing their DNA and studying 25,000 blood samples, 7,500 skeletal muscle biopsies and 7,500 fat biopsies. Additional samples will be analyzed from animal models used to study the effects of exercise. For each sample, researchers will measure thousands of genes and metabolites.

“No single lab can deliver groundbreaking work alone on this scale,” Li says. “The scope and systematic approach of the Consortium is really what sets it apart from most studies in the past.”

Li
Jun Li, Ph.D.

Li will lead the Data Management and Bioinformatics Core and Burant will lead the Administrative and Analysis Cores within the Michigan Chemical Analysis Site.

All of the information gathered in the Consortium will be stored in a publically accessible database that scientists from across the world can use to study the effect of exercise and how it may affect organs and tissues in the human body.

“Discovering the similarities and differences among individuals in their responses to exercise will be important in prescribing the right amount and type of exercise for a person to improve their health,” Burant says. “It may also provide some way in which we can mimic the beneficial effects of exercise in those who are not able to exercise enough to obtain health benefits. We’re very excited to be able to work in the MoTrPAC Consortium with scientists across the country in what will be a new way for us to answer big scientific questions.”

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