Excitation-transcription coupling in skeletal muscle: the molecular pathways of exercise

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2011 Aug;86(3):564-600. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00161.x. Epub 2010 Oct 6.


Muscle fibres have different properties with respect to force, contraction speed, endurance, oxidative/glycolytic capacity etc. Although adult muscle fibres are normally post-mitotic with little turnover of cells, the physiological properties of the pre-existing fibres can be changed in the adult animal upon changes in usage such as after exercise. The signal to change is mainly conveyed by alterations in the patterns of nerve-evoked electrical activity, and is to a large extent due to switches in the expression of genes. Thus, an excitation-transcription coupling must exist. It is suggested that changes in nerve-evoked muscle activity lead to a variety of activity correlates such as increases in free intracellular Ca(2+) levels caused by influx across the cell membrane and/or release from the sarcoplasmatic reticulum, concentrations of metabolites such as lipids and ADP, hypoxia and mechanical stress. Such correlates are detected by sensors such as protein kinase C (PKC), calmodulin, AMP-activated kinase (AMPK), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor δ (PPARδ), and oxygen dependent prolyl hydroxylases that trigger intracellular signaling cascades. These complex cascades involve several transcription factors such as nuclear factor of activated T-cells (NFAT), myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2), myogenic differentiation factor (myoD), myogenin, PPARδ, and sine oculis homeobox 1/eyes absent 1 (Six1/Eya1). These factors might act indirectly by inducing gene products that act back on the cascade, or as ultimate transcription factors binding to and transactivating/repressing genes for the fast and slow isoforms of various contractile proteins and of metabolic enzymes. The determination of size and force is even more complex as this involves not only intracellular signaling within the muscle fibres, but also muscle stem cells called satellite cells. Intercellular signaling substances such as myostatin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) seem to act in a paracrine fashion. Induction of hypertrophy is accompanied by the satellite cells fusing to myofibres and thereby increasing the capacity for protein synthesis. These extra nuclei seem to remain part of the fibre even during subsequent atrophy as a form of muscle memory facilitating retraining. In addition to changes in myonuclear number during hypertrophy, changes in muscle fibre size seem to be caused by alterations in transcription, translation (per nucleus) and protein degradation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exercise*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal*


  • Muscle Proteins