Researchers have identified for the first time common genetic factors that influence muscle strength in humans.
The researchers used data on hand grip strength from more than 140,000 participants in the UK Biobank study, combined with 50,000 additional individuals from the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia to identify 16 common genetic variants that are associated with muscle strength.
"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," said Dan Wright, joint first author on the paper and a PhD student at University of Cambridge.
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 muscle fibres, and the communication of the nervous system with muscle cells, according to the study published today in Nature Communications.
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 muscle function.
This demonstrates that genetic variation in genes which cause serious muscular conditions may also influence differences in strength in the general population.
"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," said Robert Scott, who co-led the study with colleagues from University of Cambridge.
"These could be important steps towards identifying new treatments to prevent or treat muscle weakness," Scott added.
The researchers found evidence that higher muscular strength reduces risk of fracture, supporting the use of strength training interventions as a strategy to reduce risk of fractures.
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