European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 116, Issue 6, pp 1245–1253 | Cite as

Epigenetic changes in leukocytes after 8 weeks of resistance exercise training

  • Joshua DenhamEmail author
  • Francine Z. Marques
  • Emma L. Bruns
  • Brendan J. O’Brien
  • Fadi J. Charchar
Original Article



Regular engagement in resistance exercise training elicits many health benefits including improvement to muscular strength, hypertrophy and insulin sensitivity, though the underpinning molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to determine the influence 8 weeks of resistance exercise training has on leukocyte genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression in healthy young men.


Eight young (21.1 ± 2.2 years) men completed one repetition maximum (1RM) testing before completing 8 weeks of supervised, thrice-weekly resistance exercise training comprising three sets of 8–12 repetitions with a load equivalent to 80 % of 1RM. Blood samples were collected at rest before and after the 8-week training intervention. Genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression were assessed on isolated leukocyte DNA and RNA using the 450K BeadChip and HumanHT-12 v4 Expression BeadChip (Illumina), respectively.


Resistance exercise training significantly improved upper and lower body strength concurrently with diverse genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression changes (p ≤ 0. 01). DNA methylation changes occurred at multiple regions throughout the genome in context with genes and CpG islands, and in genes relating to axon guidance, diabetes and immune pathways. There were multiple genes with increased expression that were enriched for RNA processing and developmental proteins. Growth factor genes—GHRH and FGF1—showed differential methylation and mRNA expression changes after resistance training.


Our findings indicate that resistance exercise training improves muscular strength and is associated with reprogramming of the leukocyte DNA methylome and transcriptome.


Epigenome Transcriptome Strength training mRNA expression DNA methylation 



Analysis of variance


Chi squared


Cytosine neighbouring a guanine dinucleotide


Database for Annotation, Visualization and Integrated Discovery


Deoxyribonucleic acid


DNA methyltransferase


Fibroblast growth factor 1


Growth hormone-releasing hormone




International Physical Activity Questionnaire


Metabolic equivalent of task


Messenger RNA


Nuclear factor of kappa light polypeptide gene enhancer in B-cells


One repetition maximum


Resistance exercise training


Ribonucleic acid


Tet methylcytosine dioxygenase



We thank the Australian Genome Research Facility for the help with the arrays.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

None declared.


This work was supported by the Federation University Australia ‘Self-sustaining Regions Research Innovation Initiative’ and the Australian Government Collaborative Research Network (CRN). This work was also supported by a Federation University Australia Faculty of Health Seeding Grant obtained by B.J.O and F.Z.M. F.Z.M is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1052659) and National Heart Foundation (PF12M6785) co-shared Early Career Fellowships. F.J.C is supported by the Lew Carty Charitable Fund and National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

Supplementary material

421_2016_3382_MOESM1_ESM.docx (81 kb)
ESM1 (DOCX 82 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joshua Denham
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Francine Z. Marques
    • 2
    • 3
  • Emma L. Bruns
    • 4
  • Brendan J. O’Brien
    • 4
  • Fadi J. Charchar
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Science and TechnologyUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Science and TechnologyFederation University AustraliaMount HelenAustralia
  3. 3.Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes InstituteMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Faculty of HealthFederation University AustraliaMount HelenAustralia

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