In vitro experimental models for examining the skeletal muscle cell biology of exercise: the possibilities, challenges and future developments

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Exercise provides a cornerstone in the prevention and treatment of several chronic diseases. The use of in vivo exercise models alone cannot fully establish the skeletal muscle-specific mechanisms involved in such health-promoting effects. As such, models that replicate exercise-like effects in vitro provide useful tools to allow investigations that are not otherwise possible in vivo. In this review, we provide an overview of experimental models currently used to induce exercise-like effects in skeletal muscle in vitro. In particular, the appropriateness of electrical pulse stimulation and several pharmacological compounds to resemble exercise, as well as important technical considerations, are addressed. Each model covered herein provides a useful tool to investigate different aspects of exercise with a level of abstraction not possible in vivo. That said, none of these models are perfect under all circumstances, and the choice of model (and terminology) used should be informed by the specific research question whilst accounting for the several inherent limitations of each model. Further work is required to develop and optimise the current experimental models used, such as combination with complementary techniques during treatment, and thereby improve their overall utility and impact within muscle biology research.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–17
JournalPfluegers Archiv: European journal of physiology
Early online date5 Oct 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Oct 2018


  • AICAR, Caffeine, Electrical pulse stimulation, Exercise, In vitro models, PFI