Neuromuscular electrical stimulation training induces atypical adaptations of the human skeletal muscle phenotype: A functional and proteomic analysis

Julien Gondin, Lorenza Brocca, Elena Bellinzona, Giuseppe D'Antona, Nicola A. Maffiuletti, Danilo Miotti, Maria A. Pellegrino, Roberto Bottinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of the present study was to define the chronic effects of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) on the neuromuscular properties of human skeletal muscle. Eight young healthy male subjects were subjected to 25 sessions of isometric NMES of the quadriceps muscle over an 8-wk period. Needle biopsies were taken from the vastus lateralis muscle before and after training. The training status, myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform distribution, and global protein pattern, as assessed by proteomic analysis, widely varied among subjects at baseline and prompted the identification of two subgroups: an "active" (ACT) group, which performed regular exercise and had a slower MHC profile, and a sedentary (SED) group, which did not perform any exercise and had a faster MHC profile. Maximum voluntary force and neural activation significantly increased after NMES in both groups (+∼30% and +∼10%, respectively). Both type 1 and 2 fibers showed significant muscle hypertrophy. After NMES, both groups showed a significant shift from MHC-2X toward MHC-2A and MHC-1, i.e., a fast-to-slow transition. Proteomic maps showing ∼500 spots were obtained before and after training in both groups. Differentially expressed proteins were identified and grouped into functional categories. The most relevant changes regarded 1) myofibrillar proteins, whose changes were consistent with a fast-to-slow phenotype shift and with a strengthening of the cytoskeleton; 2) energy production systems, whose changes indicated a glycolytic-to-oxidative shift in the metabolic profile; and 3) antioxidant defense systems, whose changes indicated an enhancement of intracellular defenses against reactive oxygen species. The adaptations in the protein pattern of the ACT and SED groups were different but were, in both groups, typical of both resistance (i.e., strength gains and hypertrophy) and endurance (i.e., a fast-to-slow shift in MHC and metabolic profile) training. These training-induced adaptations can be ascribed to the peculiar motor unit recruitment pattern associated with NMES.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-450
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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