Scientists have found a protein that would be able to detect a change in blood flow during exercise – and could point the way to a new pill that offers workout’s benefits.
During physical activity, as the heart pumps more blood around the body, the Piezo1 protein in the endothelium – or the lining of the arteries taking blood from the heart to the stomach and intestines – senses the increased pressure on the wall of the blood vessels.
In response, it slightly alters the electrical balance in the endothelium and this results in the blood vessels constricting.
In a clever act of plumbing, that narrowing of the blood vessels reduces blood flow to the stomach and intestines, allowing more blood to reach the brain and muscles actively engaged in exercise.
The research team behind the findings, based on mice studies, say this is a big deal because it identifies for the first time a key bio-molecular mechanism by which exercise is sensed.
They believe the health benefit of exercise may be linked with the fact that blood flow is being controlled to the intestinal area.
“If we can understand how these systems work, then we may be able to develop techniques that can help tackle some of the biggest diseases afflicting modern societies,” said the study’s lead author Professor David Beech, of UK’s University of Leeds.
“We know that exercise can protect against heart disease, stroke and many other conditions. This study has identified a physiological system that senses when the mammalian body is exercising.”
The researchers also investigated the effect of an experimental compound called Yoda1 – named after the character from Star Wars – on the action of the Piezo1 protein.