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A great deal of research on physical activity suggests being active is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline, cancer, cardiovascular mortality, and mortality in general.

But questions remain about how these benefits manifest, and why some bodies become fitter, faster.

A national consortium of researchers, including Mayo Clinic, will investigate these questions in a new program to create a molecular map associated with physical activity.  This map will include specific genes, proteins, and metabolites linked with the beneficial effects of exercise and may clarify how exercise benefits differ among people of different ages, sex, race, fitness level, and body composition.

This National Institutes of Health funded effort includes:

  • 11 clinical centers to recruit a subjects who will provide blood, urine, and tissue samples before and after exercise,
  • three sites to undertake pre-clinical studies,
  • one site to analyze and prepare the data,
  • and seven chemical analysis sites to analyze samples for genes, proteins, and small molecule metabolites.

A group of investigators at Mayo Clinic were selected for funding as one of the chemical analysis sites that will leverage expertise and resources within Mayo’s Metabolomics Core Laboratory.

Mayo’s chemical analysis site is led by K Sreekumaran Nair, M.D., Ph.D., and Ian R. Lanza, Ph.D. in the Division of Endocrinology.

K Sreekumaran Nair M.D., Ph.D. and Ian R. Lanza, Ph.D.

These investigators will help fill in the molecular map of physical activity by figuring out which small molecules change with exercise, and which of these molecules may predict the health benefits of physical activity.

By combining information from expressed genes, with information on the proteins that actually carry out the genetic “instructions” and then including the effects, or metabolites, of those instructions, Drs. Nair and Lanza hope to uncover the molecular signature of physical activity.

The effort, called the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, will be fully underway in 2018, and the $170 million program funds the project through 2022.

— Sara Tiner

Feb. 14, 2017