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The mechanisms and benefits of exercise

At Wayne State University, Robert Wessells and his team are making significant strides in identifying potential exercise mediators or mimetics that could help mitigate pathologies resulting from prolonged sedentary periods

Exercise is an indispensable part of our daily life to maintain a healthy body and brain across ages. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the incidence of many age-related diseases and preserves healthy function during normal aging, improving quality of life and independence. However, chronic exercise remains inaccessible to portions of the population due to injury, illness, advanced age or job-enforced sedentary periods.

Therefore, identifying potential exercise mediators or mimetics that can deliver the benefits of exercise to sedentary people would be potentially transformative in reducing disease burden worldwide.

At Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, USA, Dr Robert (RJ) Wessells and his lab team have used the many genetic tools available for use in fruit flies to identify several single molecules that act as powerful exercise mimetics in the brain and muscle of sedentary flies.

Exercise in fruit flies

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is an excellent model organism to study mechanisms of exercise due to its short lifespan, large sample sizes, and low cost of maintenance. Moreover, about 60% of Drosophila’s genes have known human homologs, making genetic discoveries highly likely to be relevant to humans.

To understand how flies respond to exercise, the Wessells group first established an automated exercise device known as the Power Tower that utilizes flies’ inherent response to negative geotaxis, an instinctive behavior to climb upwards after being dropped to the bottom of their vials. After a three-week program of ramped daily training, the endurance and speed of the exercised group are dramatically higher than unexercised controls.

Using this system, the Wessells group identified a specific subset of neurons in the brain

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