Sex modifies exercise and cardiac adaptation in mice

John P. Konhilas, Alexander H. Maass, Stephen W. Luckey, Brian L. Stauffer, Eric N. Olson, Leslie A. Leinwand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


How an individual's sex and genetic background modify cardiac adaptation to increased work-load is a topic of great interest. We systematically evaluated morphological and physiological cardiac adaptation in response to voluntary and forced exercise. We found that sex/gender is a dominant factor in exercise performance (in two exercise paradigms and two mouse strains) and that females of one of these strains have greater capacity to increase their cardiac mass in response to similar amounts of exercise. To explore the biochemical mechanisms for these differences, we examined signaling pathways previously implicated in cardiac hypertrophy. Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase (CaMK) activity was significantly greater in males compared with females and increased after voluntary cage-wheel exposure in both sexes, but the proportional increase in CaMK activity was twofold higher in females compared with males. Phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK-3β) was evident after 7 days of cage-wheel exposure in both sexes and remained elevated in females only by 21 days of exercise. Despite moderate increases in myocyte enhancer factor-2 (a downstream effector of CaMK) transcriptional activity and phosphorylation of Akt with exercise, there were no sex differences. Mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling components (p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase and extracellular regulated kinase 1/2) were not different between male and female mice and were not affected by exercise. We conclude that females have increased exercise capacity and increased hypertrophic response to exercise. We have also identified sex-specific differences in hypertrophic signaling within the cardiac myocyte that may contribute to sexual dimorphism in exercise and cardiac adaptation to exercise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H2768-H2776
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6 56-6
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Calmodulin
  • Glycogen
  • Hypertrophy
  • Myocyte signaling
  • Workload

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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