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INRA
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Dernière mise à jour : Mai 2018

Menu Logo Principal AgroParisTech Université Paris-Saclay

INRA GABI Unit

GABI : Génétique Animale et Biologie IntégrativeUnité Mixte de Recherche INRA - AgroParisTech

The metabolic secrets of horse-athlete endurance

@ INRAE Eric Barrey
The intestinal microbiota and energy centers of the blood cells of horses communicate to ensure an unfailing endurance! A dialogue based on fatty acid production allows the animal to adapt its metabolism to delay fatigue, hypoglycemia and reduce inflammation. These are the conclusions of a study led by INRAE in partnership with the National Veterinary School at Alfort and the University of Evry. These results, published in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences lead the way to custom-made diets for endurance race horses, to guarantee their performances, welfare and health.

The unexpected relationship between the endurance of a horse and its intestinal microbiota? Indeed, some bacteria in the intestinal microbiota directly influence energy metabolism, in particular that of the mitochondria1 which are real energy producing factories for cells. That is the conclusion of an original study carried out by scientists from INRAE, in partnership with the National Veterinary School at Alfort and the University of Evry. At the origin of their questions, horses capable of running races at speeds between 100 and 160 km in approximately 8h, which is for humans the equivalent of a race up Mont Blanc, a real physical feat! Studies in genomics and statistics have improved our understanding of energy metabolism in these horse athletes.

To understand how these horses succeed in having such endurance, scientists looked for a link between the intestinal microbiota and the mitochondria of blood cells. For this, they took samples from blood and manure from 20 horses, before and just after a race. Genetic and metabolic analyses of blood and manure show that a real dialogue exists between the intestinal microbiota of the horse and blood cell mitochondria. The microbiota makes fatty acides such as butyrate2, that enter the blood. These fatty acids act both as fuel for the mitochondria but also as messengers. They "know" when an intense effort is being made: they adjust energy production by using butyrate for example, which delays muscle fatigue, hypoglycemia and reduces inflammation.

This work is a pioneer in the study of the relationship between the microbiota and mitochondria, explored here on an original model for energy metabolism in endurance race horses. Even though the precise mechanisms for molecular communication implicated must still be studied in detial, these first results improve our understanding of energy metabolism during a prolonged effort. They offer ways to preserve the welfare of horses and facilitate endurance effort by adapting the diet to favor an optimal intestinal microbiota.

An equine trail under high surveillance

The horse-athletes studied here run races at 100 to 160 km in 8h, the equivalent of "trail" races in humans. Here, the 20 horses are of the Arab breed ; they have an average galopping speed of 20 - 22km/h. Their health is checked every 40km, giving the horse a chance to rest, drink and eat while the team of veterinarians control their vital signs to make sure that they are able to continue racing.

1* Mitochondria are comptments in most animal cells, in charge of producing energy to ensure cell function and in the end organ function.
2* Butyrate is a fatty acid with antiinflammaotry properties produced and exported by bacteria.

See also

  • Référence

Mach N, Moroldo M, Rau A, Lecardonnel J, Le Moyec L, Robert C and Barrey E (2021) Understanding the Holobiont: Crosstalk Between Gut Microbiota and Mitochondria During Long Exercise in Horse. Front. Mol. Biosci. 8:656204. doi: 10.3389/fmolb.2021.656204