Research at York U earns doctoral student 2015 Paper of the Year award from American Journal of Physiology

The American Journal of Physiology has given the 2015 Paper of the Year award to Anna Vainshtein, a 2014 PhD graduate of York University. The award was recently announced at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, CA.

Anna Vainshtein
Anna Vainshtein

Vainshtein, who earned her BSc, MSc and PhD at York University, published “Role of PGC-1α during acute exercise-induced autophagy and mitophagy in skeletal muscle” in the May 2015 issue of the journal based on her research at York.

The paper investigates the cellular and molecular components that lead to exercise-mediated health benefits. The research considers the positive influence of exercise on health – for example, improving metabolism, glucose regulation, cardiovascular health – and documentations that it prevents diabetes, delays heart disease and improves self-image and depression.

“Dr. David Hood has been interested in understanding this phenomenon since the establishment of his lab here at York University,” said Vainshtein, who researched in Hood’s lab while pursuing her masters and PhD.

Hood, who is a professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science, Faculty of Health, and the Department of Biology, Faculty of Graduate Studies, as well as a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair, investigates mitochondrial biogenesis in health and disease.

“What factors in the cell are working behind the scenes to bring us all of these health benefits is of particular interest since they can be potentially pharmacologically targeted,” said Vainshtein. “Understanding what these factors are and how we can modulate them has great therapeutic potential for those who are unable or unwilling to exercise.”

Anna Vainshtein
Heather Carter (left), David Hood, Sobia Iqbal and Anna Vainshtein (right) during their study of the synthesis and breakdown of mitochondria in muscle as it adapts to exercise in 2014

The study led by Vainshtein found that the genetic regulator molecule PGC-1α is not only responsible for the production of new mitochondrial components – which results in the growth and increase organelle size and number – but that it also coordinates the removal and recycling of damaged and malfunctioning organelles.

The findings are of particular importance because they highlight the importance of mitochondrial renovation following exercise and identify the involvement of PGC-1α in this process. The study, said Vainshtein, helps to shed light on some of the processes that take place behind the scenes to allow cellular renovation and remodeling following exercise thus contributing to the multitude of benefits exercise bestows.

“I feel quite honored that our work was so well received by the physiology community,” she said. “It has been pretty exciting working on this project and the results really help connect some important aspects of exercise biology. I think that this is an important discovery as it adds to our understanding of what happens in muscle cells at the molecular level following exercise and uncovers an important piece of information that helps explain how exercise may induce such a wide array of health benefits.”