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Exercise-associated prevention of adult cardiovascular disease in children and adolescents: monocytes, molecular mechanisms, and a call for discovery


Atherosclerosis originates in childhood and adolescence. The goal of this review is to highlight how exercise and physical activity during childhood and adolescence, critical periods of growth and development, can prevent adult cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly through molecular mechanisms of monocytes, a key cell of the innate immune system. Monocytes are heterogeneous and pluripotential cells that can, paradoxically, play a role in both the instigation and prevention of atherosclerosis. Recent discoveries in young adults reveal that brief exercise affects monocyte gene pathways promoting a cell phenotype that patrols the vascular system and repairs injuries. Concurrently, exercise inhibits pro-inflammatory monocytes, cells that contribute to vascular damage and plaque formation. Because CVD is typically asymptomatic in youth, minimally invasive techniques must be honed to study the subtle anatomic and physiologic evidence of vascular dysfunction. Exercise gas exchange and heart rate measures can be combined with ultrasound assessments of vascular anatomy and reactivity, and near-infrared spectroscopy to quantify impaired O2 transport that is often hidden at rest. Combined with functional, transcriptomic, and epigenetic monocyte expression and measures of monocyte-endothelium interaction, molecular mechanisms of early CVD can be formulated, and then translated into effective physical activity-based strategies in youth to prevent adult-onset CVD.

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