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Steroids boost muscles for the long haul

Experiments in mice suggest effects don’t end when doping does

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8:01am, November 1, 2013

PUMPED UP  Mouse muscles treated with steroids (right) grow bigger than ones in undrugged animals (left). Steroids increase the number of nuclei in a muscle cell, which may help the muscle pump back up long after the steroids are gone. 

Steroids may continue to boost muscle-building capacity long after a person stops taking the drugs, a new study of mice suggests. The finding could mean that athletes who cheat by taking anabolic steroids should be suspended from competition for a decade or longer.

The research also suggests that building muscles in youth may have benefits that last into old age.

In the new study, researchers led by Kristian Gundersen, a physiologist at the University of Oslo, tested the effect of steroids on female mice. The team had previously shown that exercise builds new nuclei in muscle cells (SN: 9/11/10, p. 15). Nuclei are the cellular compartments where DNA is stored, and muscle cells typically have multiple nuclei. Increasing the number of nuclei gives muscles the capacity to build more proteins.

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