A pioneering study by Sant Pau and the Barça Innovation Hub describes, for the first time, how high-intensity sport affects genetic expression

A pioneering study carried out by researchers from the Sant Pau Research Institute and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), in collaboration with the Barça Innovation Hub – the research and innovation area of FC Barcelona – has made it possible to relate, for the first time, how high-intensity sport affects genetic expression. Specifically, alterations have been detected in the immune system, the metabolism of amino acids, the generation of energy and the levels of oxidative stress in the body just after practicing high-intensity exercise.

The study, published by the prestigious scientific journal PlosOne Journals, has identified different profiles of recovery from the physical effort made during high-intensity exercise that allows, in a personalized way, to establish a new innovative way of distinguishing, in a same team, athletes depending on whether they are fast or slow recoverers depending on the expression of their genes.

The research has focused on analyzing the expression profile of the genes of the FC Barcelona handball team players, examining which genes are activated or inhibited depending on the physical effort of each player during the match and relating – him with the physical preparation and the ability to recover after a game.

The objective was to relate the levels of external load of athletes, caused by high-intensity sports activity, with the activation of all the genes in the genome of each individual.

Latest generation pioneering technique

This study is distinguished by being one of the first to use advanced sequencing techniques using NGS (Next-Generation Sequencing) that allow the expression of all genes in the genome to be analyzed in blood by analyzing mRNA levels, relying on sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms to interpret the data obtained.

Dr. José Manuel Soria, head of the Genomics group for complex diseases at the Sant Pau Research Institute, comments that: “transcriptomics (expression of our genes) plays a crucial role in unraveling the molecular mechanisms associated with performance and recovery in sport, as demonstrated by our results”.

This expert, who is the main author of the study, adds that “with this information – the identification of key genes and the alteration of the pathways involved – applied to sport, health professionals will be able to develop specific interventions and customized to improve performance, recovery, as well as to reduce the risk of injury for each athlete. These results will also have a high impact on non-professional athletes who want to improve their goals or simply improve their health.”

A door to the sports medicine of the future

The technology used in this study opens the door to a wide range of applications in the field of personalized medicine and the personalization of clinical interventions. Analyzing the transcriptomic profile of the athletes, it is possible to detect those alterations in the expression of the genes of each individual that hinder the processes of sports recovery and allows to optimize the performance of the players through personalized adaptive interventions, based on the characteristics specific to each of the athletes.

This advance not only benefits high-performance athletes, but also has potential implications in the field of general health and well-being by providing a more holistic and personalized approach to sports health care.

Reference article

Ezquerra Condeminas P, Mallol M, Font R, Tremps V, Gutiérrez JA, et al. (2024) Unraveling athletic performance: Transcriptomics and external load monitoring in handball competition. PLOS ONE 19(3): e0299556.

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