Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Double muscles for life with just one injection of follistatin gene

You can nag your dealer until he pins you on to the fender of his SUV, but you still won’t get any. We’re talking about the anabolic wonder stuff that researchers at Ohio State University are doing experiments with. A single injection will change you for the rest of your life into a hulk of the kind that Markus Ruehl [see photo below] would say: that much muscle just isn’t aesthetic.

The super steroid in question is not a hormone. It’s a common-cold virus that the researchers have made some adjustments
Das Ruehl
to. Viruses invade cells and release their genes into them. Then the cell obeys the virus genes’ instructions, and makes the proteins according to the genes’ blueprint. The proteins formed are the building blocks for new viruses.

The researchers managed to get their viruses to ‘programme’ the muscle cells to make proteins that deactivated the myostatin protein. Myostatin is a protein that muscle cells make to prevent fitness centre owners from having to change jobs and become SUV salesmen.

Not that the researchers had something against fitness centre owners. They are looking for a cure for muscular dystrophy. In their study, which was published in the prestigious PNAS, they tested three myostatin inhibiting genes: the gene for growth and differentiation factor-associated serum protein-1 (GASP-1), follistatin-related gene (FLRG) and the gene for follistatin-344 (FS).

There are various kinds of follistatin and they all have different functions. As far as we know, only follistatin-344 is active in muscle tissue.

The mice in the experiment were given an injection when they were four weeks old. The photos below show their musculature two years later. AAV1 stands for the adenovirus that the researchers used. AAV1-GFP was the control group.

The injection with the gene for follistatin-344 was the most effective. This becomes clearer if you look at the figure below, which shows the weight of the mice two years after the injection.

But most beautiful of all is the graph below. This shows how the mice’s power developed over their lifespan. The mice in the control group – the green curve – get weaker towards the end of their life. But the mice that were injected with AAV1-FS – the red curve – just keep on getting stronger.

The researchers obtained the same success when they injected the viruses into mice that had congenital muscle disease. "The striking ability of FS to provide gross and functional long-term improvement to dystrophic muscles in aged animals warrants its consideration for clinical development to treat musculoskeletal diseases, including older DMD patients", they write.

Only a few years, and muscular diseases will be a thing of the past. And all fitness centres will go bust.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Mar 18;105(11):4318-22.

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