Single-cell sequencing deconvolutes cellular responses to exercise in human skeletal muscle

Skeletal muscle adaptations to exercise have been associated with a range of health-related benefits, but cell type-specific adaptations within the muscle are incompletely understood. Here we use single-cell sequencing to determine the effects of exercise on cellular composition and cell type-specific processes in human skeletal muscle before and after intense exercise. Fifteen clusters originating from six different cell populations were identified. Most cell populations remained quantitatively stable after exercise, but a large transcriptional response was observed in mesenchymal, endothelial, and myogenic cells, suggesting that these cells are specifically involved in skeletal muscle remodeling. We found three subpopulations of myogenic cells characterized by different maturation stages based on the expression of markers such as PAX7, MYOD1, TNNI1, and TNNI2. Exercise accelerated the trajectory of myogenic progenitor cells towards maturation by increasing the transcriptional features of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers. The transcriptional regulation of these contractile elements upon differentiation was validated in vitro on primary myoblast cells. The cell type-specific adaptive mechanisms induced by exercise presented here contribute to the understanding of the skeletal muscle adaptations triggered by physical activity and may ultimately have implications for physiological and pathological processes affecting skeletal muscle, such as sarcopenia, cachexia, and glucose homeostasis.