16 April 2009
Muscles are damaged when they are used as brakes, as in downhill walking, where leg muscles are forced to repeatedly contract against gravity.
This allows calcium ions to flood into the muscle cells through minute holes in the surface membrane, triggering widespread damage inside the muscle cells. But, La Trobe University researchers have shown that in normal people this turns on an important cellular repair process.
Graham Lamb, a professor and Robyn Murphy of La Trobe have discovered that the influx of calcium activates a molecule called calpain–3, the day after exercise to repair muscle tissues.
The molecule does such a good job that if the same exercise is repeated a week later it will cause no further discomfort.
“It’s unclear how the mechanism works,” Lamb said. “Does calpain–3 actually reprogramme the muscle? This is a question for further research.”
Lamb’s team’s discovery of the role of calpain–3 in muscle repair helps explain cumulative damage in people lacking it, who develop the ‘limb–girdle’ form of muscular disease because their muscles progressively degenerate through daily wear and tear, said a La Trobe release.