In vitro and animal studies indicate that the response to heat stress is associated with beneficial adaptations that promote cell health and survival. Few studies to date have examined this finding in human subjects, and it is unclear how the adaptation compares in magnitude to exercise training. The purpose of this study was to investigate the skeletal muscle adaptations (namely mitochondrial biogenesis and capillarization) of 6 weeks of deep-muscle heat treatment relative to exercise training. We hypothesized that heat treatment (HT), applied through pulsed shortwave diathermy (2 hr, 3 days/week) over a 6-week intervention period would lead to increased mitochondrial content and capillarity within skeletal muscle, though to a lesser extent than single-leg knee extension exercise training (EX; 40 min, 3 days/week). We randomized 28 sedentary but otherwise healthy, young adults (ages 18–36; n = 13 female, n = 15 male) to receive either HT, EX, or sham heating sessions (CON; 2 hr, 3 days/week) over 6 weeks. Diathermy increased muscle temperature by 3.2 ± 0.33 C (P < 0.0001) within 20 minutes. Muscle biopsies were taken from the vastus lateralis at baseline, after 3 weeks of intervention and again after 6 weeks of intervention. Following 3 and 6 weeks of heat treatment, we did not observe significant changes in mitochondrial biogenesis or capillarization. However, exercise training was sufficient to elicit an increase in individual capillary-to-fiber ratio (P = 0.0003), capillary density (P = 0.0428), and the Capillary to Fiber Perimeter Exchange Index (P = 0.0089). Significant increases in the expression of mitochondrial protein Complexes I (P = 0.0073) and IV (P = 0.0015), were observed in the exercise group, but not the heat or control groups. These results indicate that 6 weeks of localized HT, when applied to young healthy individuals, is insufficient to induce mitochondrial biogenesis or capillarization in skeletal muscle. Additionally, our findings provide support for the extensive body of literature that connect exercise training to beneficial skeletal muscle adaptations.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Exercise Sciences



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Document Type





heat stress, mitochondrial content, angiogenesis, capillarization, diathermy



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Life Sciences Commons