European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 113, Issue 4, pp 951–963 | Cite as

Exercise with low glycogen increases PGC-1α gene expression in human skeletal muscle

  • Niklas PsilanderEmail author
  • Per Frank
  • Mikael Flockhart
  • Kent Sahlin
Original Article


Recent studies suggest that carbohydrate restriction can improve the training-induced adaptation of muscle oxidative capacity. However, the importance of low muscle glycogen on the molecular signaling of mitochondrial biogenesis remains unclear. Here, we compare the effects of exercise with low (LG) and normal (NG) glycogen on different molecular factors involved in the regulation of mitochondrial biogenesis. Ten highly trained cyclists (VO2max 65 ± 1 ml/kg/min, W max 387 ± 8 W) exercised for 60 min at approximately 64 % VO2max with either low [166 ± 21 mmol/kg dry weight (dw)] or normal (478 ± 33 mmol/kg dw) muscle glycogen levels achieved by prior exercise/diet intervention. Muscle biopsies were taken before, and 3 h after, exercise. The mRNA of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator-1 was enhanced to a greater extent when exercise was performed with low compared with normal glycogen levels (8.1-fold vs. 2.5-fold increase). Cytochrome c oxidase subunit I and pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase isozyme 4 mRNA were increased after LG (1.3- and 114-fold increase, respectively), but not after NG. Phosphorylation of AMP-activated protein kinase, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases and acetyl-CoA carboxylase was not changed 3 h post-exercise. Mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production and glutathione oxidative status tended to be reduced 3 h post-exercise. We conclude that exercise with low glycogen levels amplifies the expression of the major genetic marker for mitochondrial biogenesis in highly trained cyclists. The results suggest that low glycogen exercise may be beneficial for improving muscle oxidative capacity.


Train low Carbohydrate restriction Gene expression PGC-1α Oxidative stress 



The study was supported by grants from the Swedish National Centre for Research in Sports, the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden. We thank all the participants for their time and effort. We also gratefully acknowledge Marjan Pontén for her excellent technical assistance. No conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, are declared by the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niklas Psilander
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Per Frank
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mikael Flockhart
    • 1
  • Kent Sahlin
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.The Åstrand Laboratory of Work PhysiologyGIH, The Swedish School of Sport and Health SciencesStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of Physiology and PharmacologyKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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