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Gene Variations Associated with Endurance Running Ability

Scientists have shown that elite endurance runners are more likely to have particular variations (SNPs) of the NRF2 (nuclear respiratory factor 2) gene than are elite sprinters. Non-elite endurance runners were also more likely to have these NRF2 variations compared to sprinters, although the difference was not as pronounced. “These findings suggest that harboring this specific genotype might increase the probability of being an endurance athlete,” said lead author Dr. Nir Eynon of the Wingate Institute in Israel. The authors said that their data supports the notion that these specific gene variants might belong to a growing group of SNPs that are associated with endurance performance. The researchers investigated the NRF2 gene because previous studies had shown that it might play a role in endurance performance as it helps produce new mitochondria, a key cellular structure that produces energy. Earlier studies had also shown that the NRF2 gene can reduce the harmful effects of oxidation and inflammation, which increase during exercise. The researchers noted that their study shows an association between the gene variations and endurance, but does not establish a cause-effect relationship. Future studies are needed to unravel exactly what role the NRF2 gene plays in athletic performance. The current study is part of a larger body of research that is exploring the human genome and which aims to understand the genetic underpinnings of athletic performance. The results were published online in Physiological Genomics on December 22, 2009. The Sports Illustrated photo shows American marathon runner Bill Rodgers in 1979. [Press release] [Physiological Genomics abstract]