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Selection for exercise-adapted phenotypes in the Thoroughbred racehorse has provided a valuable model system to understand molecular responses to exercise in skeletal muscle. Exercise stimulates immediate early molecular responses as well as delayed responses during recovery, resulting in a return to homeostasis and enabling long term adaptation. Global mRNA expression during the immediate-response period has not previously been reported in skeletal muscle following exercise in any species. Also, global gene expression changes in equine skeletal muscle following exercise have not been reported. Therefore, to identify novel genes and key regulatory pathways responsible for exercise adaptation we have used equine-specific cDNA microarrays to examine global mRNA expression in skeletal muscle from a cohort of Thoroughbred horses (n = 8) at three time points (before exercise, immediately post-exercise, and four hours post-exercise) following a single bout of treadmill exercise.
Skeletal muscle biopsies were taken from the gluteus medius before (T0), immediately after (T1) and four hours after (T2) exercise. Statistically significant differences in mRNA abundance between time points (T0 vs T1 and T0 vs T2) were determined using the empirical Bayes moderated t-test in the Bioconductor package Linear Models for Microarray Data (LIMMA) and the expression of a select panel of genes was validated using real time quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR). While only two genes had increased expression at T1 (P < 0.05), by T2 932 genes had increased (P < 0.05) and 562 genes had decreased expression (P < 0.05). Functional analysis of genes differentially expressed during the recovery phase (T2) revealed an over-representation of genes localized to the actin cytoskeleton and with functions in the MAPK signalling, focal adhesion, insulin signalling, mTOR signaling, p53 signaling and Type II diabetes mellitus pathways. At T1, using a less stringent statistical approach, we observed an over-representation of genes involved in the stress response, metabolism and intracellular signaling. These findings suggest that protein synthesis, mechanosensation and muscle remodeling contribute to skeletal muscle adaptation towards improved integrity and hypertrophy.
This is the first study to characterize global mRNA expression profiles in equine skeletal muscle using an equine-specific microarray platform. Here we reveal novel genes and mechanisms that are temporally expressed following exercise providing new knowledge about the early and late molecular responses to exercise in the equine skeletal muscle transcriptome.