A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has identified a gene in fruit flies that affects exercise performance in cold conditions. The gene, called Iditarod, plays a crucial role in cleaning up damaged cells during exercise.
As the days get shorter and colder, many people find it harder to motivate themselves to exercise in the mornings. However, this study suggests that the Iditarod gene could be responsible for making exercising in the cold more challenging.
Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and Wayne State University School of Medicine discovered the Iditarod protein while studying metabolism and the effect of stress on the body. They were particularly interested in a process called autophagy, which involves removing damaged parts of cells from the body.
By screening the fly genome, the researchers found a candidate gene for regulating autophagy, which they named Iditarod. In experiments where they overactivated autophagy in fruit flies’ eyes, they observed massive cell death and degeneration of the eye. Inactivating the Iditarod gene restored the normal eye structure, indicating its involvement in the autophagy process.
The team then looked for a similar gene in humans and found a gene called FNDC5, which is a precursor to the protein irisin. Previous research has shown that irisin is important for producing musculoskeletal and other benefits of exercise in mammals, as well as playing a role in cold adaptation.
The researchers bred fruit flies to lack the Iditarod gene and found that these flies had impaired exercise endurance and did not experience the typical improvements seen after training. They also discovered that flies without the Iditarod gene were unable to tolerate cold temperatures.
These findings suggest that the Iditarod gene, which is present in both invertebrates and mammals, plays an important role in exercise-induced cellular repair. When you engage in intense exercise, there is damage to the muscles, and some mitochondria may malfunction. The autophagy process becomes activated to clean up any damaged organelles or toxic byproducts, and the Iditarod gene seems to be important in this process.
The researchers believe that this work could have implications for understanding the physiological effects of exercise and stress on the body. By studying the Iditarod gene and its connection to exercise performance, they hope to gain further insight into how exercise benefits the body and how it can be leveraged to improve health and well-being.
This study highlights the evolutionary significance of the gene family that includes Iditarod and its role in muscle damage repair during intense exercise. Further research in this area could shed light on ways to enhance exercise performance and adaptation to challenging conditions, including cold temperatures.