Genome Study Confirms Effect of Excess Exercise on Immune System

While moderate exercise has been shown to enhance the immune system, a recent study analyzing gene expression in the lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in the immune system) of endurance horses has demonstrated that strenuous exercise can have a deleterious effect on the expression of genes affecting immunity.

Researchers at Italy's Sport Horse Research Centre of Perugia ran partial gene analysis on four Arabian endurance horses to discover which genes showed a significant change before, during, and after two 160-km (99.4-mile) competitions. Of the analyzed genes, the researchers found that 49 were significantly affected by the intense activity. Four of these genes appeared to be related to cell cycle and metabolism management. If these genes are overexpressed or underexpressed, immunity is affected.

Andrea Verini-Supplizi, DVM, an associate professor of animal biotechnology at the University of Perugia and a researcher on the study, said such studies of gene expression will help scientists understand the intrinsic molecular mechanisms that govern functions within the body.

According to Verini-Supplizi, these studies on a molecular level give the scientists a standard for understanding the physiology of strenuous activity and, thus, will help them prevent damage to the immune systems of equine athletes.

Verini-Supplizi said the results of this study confirmed past research on overexertion's effect on the immune systems of human marathoners.

This study, "Analysis of peripheral blood mononuclear cells gene expression in endurance horses by cDNA-AFLP technique," was published in the June 2007 issue of Research in Veterinary Science. Researchers on the study included Verini-Supplizi; Katia Cappelli, PhD; Stefano Capomaccio, PhD; and Maurizio Silvestrelli, DVM.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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