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Making a molecular map of exercise

reddish haired man in a collared shirt that is red with tan horizontal stripes
Health Scientist Administrator,
Division of Aging Biology (DAB)

We all know that exercise and physical activity is good for us. Regular physical activity helps just about everything—from cardiovascular health to weight loss to blood sugar control to bone health to some aspects of mental health. But exactly how does exercise result in all of these benefits? The answers may be found at the molecular level.

The NIH Common Fund recently released a series of RFAs for studying how physical activity affects the body. The Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans (MoTrPAC) will catalog the molecules affected by physical activity in people; begin to identify some of the key molecules that underlie the systemic effects of physical activity; and characterize the function of these key molecules. In short, the goal is to make a molecular map to help us understand how physical activity translates into better health.

MoTrPAC will establish a consortium of six interrelated groups of experts to examine this issue. Projects will range from basic molecular and physiological investigations in people of all ages and fitness levels after exposure to exercise training to animal studies of tissues and organs not easily studied in people. A key product of the consortium will be a user-friendly database of molecular events that occur in response to physical activity that any researcher can access. We expect this to facilitate investigator-initiated studies to understand the role of physical activity in human health.

An unprecedented opportunity

This initiative is a partnership led by the National Institute on Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the NIA. Fourteen other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices are also involved. NIH has committed about $170 million over 6 years to this program. This is the largest targeted NIH investment into the mechanisms of how physical activity improves health and prevents disease.

MoTrPAC has the potential for big discoveries and meaningful breakthroughs in many areas. As you all probably know, we don’t use words like “discovery” and “breakthrough” too often. But, we strongly believe that we will get truly exciting results from this Common Fund program.

Application information is available

A lot of detailed information on MoTrPAC is available now. Check out these websites for specific information:

NIA’s role in MoTrPAC

As noted in the webinar and in RFA-RM-15-013, NIA is administering the activities related to animal studies. I’m the primary contact for this part of this large project and am looking forward to working with investigators who will plan, develop, and conduct exercise protocols and collect tissue samples on preclinical animal species that parallel the human protocols conducted at the clinical sites.

But, it’s important to note that NIA’s role is by no means limited to animal studies. MoTrPAC covers a wide range of clinical research activities as well. Scientists from almost every area of aging research can find opportunities to participate in this initiative and I hope that many of you will do so.

The deadline for applications is March 18, 2016. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you.

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