New research shows certain exercises can help with muscular dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy is a debilitating disease that causes skeletal muscle weakness and breakdown that gets progressively worse over time. According to a team of researchers from the University of Maine, certain activities can help strengthen muscles affected by muscular dystrophy – and they figured this out by stimulating zebrafish and watching it train.

Zebrafish is an effective test model for muscular dystrophy due to molecular similarities between zebrafish and human muscles. Zebrafish can also be bred with a mutation that closely models Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe type of muscular dystrophy that affects young boys.

However, zebrafish cannot lift weights. So the UMaine researchers used a process called neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), which stimulates specific nerves to cause muscle contraction. The researchers designed four NMES diets and named them after four common weightlifting routines: power, strength, hypertrophy, and endurance. The zebrafish were then placed in a 3D-printed underwater “gym” made up of tunnels and electrodes, and the researchers analyzed their skeletal muscles to see how they had changed.

The study found that while each of the NMES weightlifting “routines” affected zebrafish neuromuscular junction morphology, swimming, and survival differently, only one – endurance neuromuscular stimulation (eNMES) – improved all three. , as long as it was accompanied by a certain antioxidant, heme oxygenase, and a receptor called integrin alpha7.

“eNMES is defined by high-frequency, low-voltage pulses, which is similar to high-repetition, low-weight training we would do in the gym. The long-standing consensus in the field of muscular dystrophy is that minimizing resistance training preserves muscle strength and mass, as it reduces the risk of muscle damage.However, our data suggest that some level of NMES-induced activity is actually beneficial to health overall muscle,” says Elisabeth Kilroy, first author of the study who conducted the research for her doctorate at UMaine. Kilroy is now Director of Observational Neuromuscular Research (MOVR) at the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The study was published on March 24, 2022 in the journal eLife.

Research suggests that the right kind of resistance training could benefit human patients with muscular dystrophy. NMES also has the potential to improve mobility and strength in patients with muscular dystrophy, although not much is known about applying the technology in this way.

“I think the most exciting aspect is that we have established a model of neuromuscular plasticity in healthy muscle versus diseased muscle, and this model will allow us to elucidate the mechanisms that could underlie potential therapies in the future,” says Clarissa Henry, professor of biological sciences, director of the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering and senior director of the Henry Lab.

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Material provided by University of Maine. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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