Mitochondrial bioenergetic pathways in blood leukocyte transcriptome decrease after intensive weight loss but are rescued following weight regain in female physique athletes

FASEB J. 2021 Apr;35(4):e21484. doi: 10.1096/fj.202002029R.


Prolonged periods of energy deficit leading to weight loss induce metabolic adaptations resulting in reduced energy expenditure, but the mechanisms for energy conservation are incompletely understood. We examined 42 healthy athletic females (age 27.5 ± 4.0 years, body mass index 23.4 ± 1.7 kg/m2 ) who volunteered into either a group dieting for physique competition (n = 25) or a control group (n = 17). The diet group substantially reduced their energy intake and moderately increased exercise levels to induce loss of fat mass that was regained during a voluntary weight regain period. The control group maintained their typical lifestyle habits and body mass as instructed. From the diet group, fasting blood samples were drawn at baseline (PRE), after 4- to 5-month weight loss (PRE-MID), and after 4- to 5-month weight regain (MID-POST) as well as from the control group at similar intervals. Blood was analyzed to determine leukocyte transcriptome by RNA-Sequencing and serum metabolome by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) platform. The intensive weight loss period induced several metabolic adaptations, including a prominent suppression of transcriptomic signature for mitochondrial OXPHOS and ribosome biogenesis. The upstream regulator analysis suggested that this reprogramming of cellular energy metabolism may be mediated via AMPK/PGC1-α signaling and mTOR/eIF2 signaling-dependent pathways. Our findings show for the first time that prolonged energy deprivation induced modulation of mitochondrial metabolism can be observed through minimally invasive measures of leukocyte transcriptome and serum metabolome at systemic level, suggesting that adaptation to energy deficit is broader in humans than previously thought.

Keywords: diet; exercise; leukocytes; oxidative phosphorylation; ribosomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome / physiology*
  • Weight Gain / physiology*
  • Weight Loss / physiology*
  • Young Adult