Common strength 'genes' identified for first time

July 12, 2017, University of Cambridge
Skeletal muscle tissue. Credit: University of Michigan Medical School

Common genetic factors that influence muscle strength in humans have been identified for the first time in a study led by researchers from the University of Cambridge and published today in Nature Communications.

The researchers used data on hand grip from more than 140,000 participants in the UK Biobank study, combined with 50,000 additional individuals from the UK, Netherlands, Denmark and Australia, to identify sixteen common genetic variants that are associated with strength.

Dan Wright, joint first author on this paper and a PhD student at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology (MRC) Unit at the University of Cambridge, said: "The very large number of individuals participating in UK Biobank provides a powerful resource for identifying genes involved in complex traits such as muscle strength, and helps us understand their underlying biology and its relevance to health."

Many of these variants were located within or near to genes known to play a role in biological processes highly relevant to muscle function, including the structure and function of , and the communication of the nervous system with muscle cells.

Mutations in some of the genes highlighted are also known to be associated with severe monogenic syndromes - conditions caused by a single genetic mutations - characterised by compromised . This demonstrates that in genes which cause serious muscular conditions may also influence differences in strength in the general population.

Dr Robert Scott, who co-led the study with colleagues from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said: "While we have long suspected a role for genetics in the variation in muscle strength, these findings give the first insights into some of the specific genetic variants that underpin variation in strength.

"These could be important steps towards identifying new treatments to prevent or treat muscle weakness."

Hand grip strength has been reported to be associated with many health outcomes, including risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, and fracture - although it has been unclear whether variation in strength actually causes these outcomes, or simply reflects underlying disease processes.

Using the sixteen genetic variants identified for strength, the researchers were able to investigate the hypothesised causal link between strength and these adverse health outcomes. Their study found no evidence that lower strength causally increases risk of death or cardiovascular disease, but they did find evidence that higher muscular strength reduces risk of fracture, supporting the use of strength training interventions as a strategy to reduce risk of fractures.

Professor Nick Wareham, director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit and a senior author of the study, noted: "This work highlights the importance of in the prevention of fractures and the complications which can often follow a fall."

Explore further: Understanding the epidemiology of sarcopenia throughout the lifecourse

More information: Willems, SM et al. Large-scale GWAS identifies multiple loci for hand grip strength providing biological insights into muscular fitness. Nature Communications; 12 July 2017; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms16015

Related Stories

Understanding the epidemiology of sarcopenia throughout the lifecourse

June 29, 2017
Sarcopenia is an age-related syndrome which is characterised by progressive and generalised loss of muscle mass and strength. How prevalent is sarcopenia? As there is a lack of consensus in the operational definition used ...

Greater muscle strength – better cognitive function for older people

June 26, 2017
Greater muscle strength is associated with better cognitive function in ageing men and women, according to a new Finnish study. The association of extensively measured upper and lower body muscle strength with cognitive function ...

Body builders aren't necessarily the strongest athletes

November 3, 2016
An increase in muscle size with exercise may not be directly related to an increase in muscle strength, according to a recent analysis of the literature.

Poor thigh muscle strength may increase women's risk of knee osteoarthritis

February 8, 2017
A new study has found that poor strength in the thigh muscles may increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis in women but not men. This relationship was confounded by body mass index (BMI), which itself is known as a risk factor ...

Testing hand-grip strength could be a simple, low-cost way to predict heart attack and stroke risk

May 13, 2015
Weak grip strength is linked with shorter survival and a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke, according to an international study involving almost 140000 adults from 17 culturally and economically diverse countries.

Higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy could help babies become stronger

January 3, 2014
Children are likely to have stronger muscles if their mothers had a higher level of vitamin D in their body during pregnancy, according to new research from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) ...

Recommended for you

15 new genes identified that shape human faces

February 20, 2018
Researchers from KU Leuven (Belgium) and the universities of Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Penn State have identified 15 genes that determine facial features. The findings were published in Nature Genetics.

New algorithm can pinpoint mutations favored by natural selection in large sections of the human genome

February 20, 2018
A team of scientists has developed an algorithm that can accurately pinpoint, in large regions of the human genome, mutations favored by natural selection. The finding provides deeper insight into how evolution works, and ...

New software helps detect adaptive genetic mutations

February 20, 2018
Researchers from Brown University have developed a new method for sifting through genomic data in search of genetic variants that have helped populations adapt to their environments. The technique, dubbed SWIF(r), could be ...

Highly mutated protein in skin cancer plays central role in skin cell renewal

February 20, 2018
Approximately once a month, our skin completely renews itself. If this highly coordinated process goes awry, it can lead to a variety of skin diseases, ranging from skin cancer to psoriasis. Cells lining such organs as skin ...

Study of smoking and genetics illuminates complexities of blood pressure

February 15, 2018
Analyzing the genetics and smoking habits of more than half a million people has shed new light on the complexities of controlling blood pressure, according to a study led by researchers at Washington University School of ...

New mutation linked to ovarian cancer can be passed down through dad

February 15, 2018
A newly identified mutation, passed down through the X-chromosome, is linked to earlier onset of ovarian cancer in women and prostate cancer in father and sons. Kunle Odunsi, Kevin H. Eng and colleagues at Roswell Park Comprehensive ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.