York U research shows exercise may improve muscle health in specific cancer patients


TORONTO, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 – Patients diagnosed with p53-mutation cancers, such as soft-tissue sarcomas, or cancers of the colon, lung, breast, liver, brain, and hemopoietic tissues, may be able to improve their muscle health and performance through exercise training, a study from York University finds.

The protein p53 maintains normal mitochondrial content and function in muscle, but when mutated, causes cancer. This research is the first to find evidence that muscle can still adapt to exercise without p53 and muscle mitochondrial benefits on metabolism and endurance are still possible.

Mitochondria make most of the cell's supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that cells use as a source of energy. In skeletal muscle, mitochondria adapt as a result of regular exercise and increase in content to improve their function for better muscle energy production.

Professor David Hood, NSERC Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Cell Physiology and Director of York University’s Muscle Health Research Centre, and graduate student Kaitlyn Beyfuss, investigated the role of the protein p53 in regulating mitochondria both at rest and under the influence of exercise. The goal was to better understand the role of p53 in mediating exercise-induced adaptations in muscle.

During the study, researchers tested muscle tissue with a specific p53 deletion during a six-week endurance training program and they measured mitochondrial function. In the absence of p53, mitochondrial function and content was reduced in muscle.  However, exercise training completely rescued this deficit, even if p53 was deleted. This suggests that other cellular regulators of mitochondrial function take over when p53 is unable to function.

“The protein p53 is vital for cellular health, but when you exercise, at least some of the benefits of exercise do not rely on the presence of p53,” said Hood. “Thus, patients with cancer resulting from a deletion of p53 can still improve their muscle health and metabolic status if they undergo a progressive exercise training program.”

These findings could change the way patients are rehabilitated, knowing that exercise can be as beneficial as in healthy individuals in improving muscle function, endurance and muscle health, leading to a greater quality of life.

The study “The Role of p53 in Determining Mitochondrial Adaptations to Endurance Training in Skeletal Muscle” was published in the latest issue of Scientific Reports.

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Media Contact:

Anjum Nayyar, York University Media Relations, 416-736-2100 ext. 44543, anayyar@yorku.ca