Junior, biomedical science major
My Research Project
My project involved examining the adaptation of skeletal muscle to resistance exercise in mice that had been depleted of muscle stem cells (satellite cells). Generally, muscle growth is accompanied by an increase in protein synthesis and the differentiation of satellite cells into muscle nuclei. During this project, we examined if growth happens without the addition of satellite cells into muscle. As certain clinical populations have reduced satellite cell content and muscle mass, our project aimed to provide insights into how muscles respond to a growth stimulus with the loss of this cell population.
We used Progressive Weighted Wheel running (PoWeR) as a model for resistance exercise. PoWeR involves voluntary running activity of the mice in weighted running wheels. The weight placed on the running wheel is gradually increased over the course of four to eight weeks, overloading the musculature and causing a growth response called muscle hypertrophy. Using a genetic mouse model that allowed for the selective depletion of satellite cells, we compared sedentary- and resistance-exercised mice in groups of satellite cell-replete (vehicle treated) and -depleted (tamoxifen treated) mice. We compared muscle hypertrophy and other physiological adaptations between groups to determine the effects of satellite cell depletion. At the completion of this project, we hoped to gain a further understanding of the role satellite cells play in muscle growth.
Realities of Research
My main focus for the summer was using muscle tissue from the PoWeR mice, and making it possible to obtain data and useful information. I accomplished this through immunohistochemistry, a laboratory technique where we cut cross sections of the muscle and stain them for proteins of interest. This staining allowed us to visualize the sections under the microscope, image them and quantify the images using different forms of software. This technique presented certain challenges because the tissue must be carefully prepared and stored to prevent degradation. Poor quality tissue introduced variability outside of what is normal to the mice models. For example, having to overcome challenges and work to optimize a stain meant visualizing newly formed RNA in muscle nuclei. The stain can appear too dull and the quality would not be high enough to draw conclusions unless the procedure was optimized. Overcoming these challenges provided stunning images and reliable data. We found that although satellite cells were not absolutely required for muscle growth in response to weighted wheel running, there was a decrease in growth in the satellite cell depleted mice.
Life as a Scientist
The day-to-day life of a research scientist presented me with a constantly changing experience that was more engaging than the traditional classroom setting. There was always a new aspect of the project to investigate. It was incredibly satisfying to see your work come together in data that tell a cohesive story. The process of getting there was occasionally tedious though. For example, we’d normalize our data to the number of fibers in the muscle cross section and when the software couldn’t count for us, we were forced to count by hand. When the sections were between 600 and 800 fibers in a study with 48 mice, that part of research tended to drag. But that was only a minor inconvenience to a necessary bump in the road towards a satisfying research project.
Alec Dupont is a junior at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, studying biomedical science. He is a 2019 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow (UGSRF) working under Dr. Charlotte Peterson at the Center for Muscle Biology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Alec’s work is funded by the American Physiological Society’s UGSRF program and a grant from the National Institute of Health to Dr. Charlotte Peterson and Dr. John McCarthy (AR060701).