Sabrina Tzivia Barsky, a grad student in the Monks lab at UTM, has earned the Christine Hone-Buske Award from Cell & Systems Biology for her publication “Androgen action on myogenesis throughout the lifespan; comparison with neurogenesis”.

With this paper she is taking her research on androgen hormones in skeletal muscle and relating it to how androgens might regulate plasticity in brain cells.

In high school, Barsky was a junior gymnast competing for Canada, so building healthy skeletal muscle capacity was an important consideration for her. Her studies since then have focused on how exercise and aging affect muscles, and how these responses differ between males and females.

The Monks lab studies the role of hormones in the brain, in behavior and in sexual reward. Barsky studies on the role of androgen hormones, namely testosterone, in building muscle mass. Barsky focuses on the effect of changes to the androgen receptor, the protein that detects androgens, throughout exercise modalities, including endurance training.

Barsky pays close attention to sex-specific differences in muscle development. She found that the effects of very high changes in androgen receptor content in muscle is most pronounced in male rats, but can be effective for female rats at specific ages in terms of muscle growth and fat loss.

“Exercise and muscle physiology for a long time excluded females because of changes in estrogen and progesterone that happen throughout the menstrual cycle,” Barsky explains, “but the fluctuation of these hormones don’t seem to actually play as much of a role in mediating acute performance or muscle anabolism as was previously thought.”

In a recent paper, Barsky found that the massive changes seen in body composition through puberty and the fat reduction that we see in exercise training is only partly mediated by the androgen receptor in skeletal muscle.

This elegant collection of experiments challenges what you might hear from physiotherapists or trainers in the gym. She shows there is nuance involved in androgen action on building muscle, which has implications in steroid use for treating muscle-wasting diseases like sarcopenia or in combination with resistance training to improve physique.

Muscle satellite cells maintain and build skeletal muscle, whereas neural stem cells build and maintain the nervous system. Although they are different, the two tissues share some similarities, like their ability to respond to different environmental, behavioural, and hormonal cues throughout life.

The paper that earned her the Hone-Buske Award focuses on the effects of androgens on neural stem cells compared to those on muscle satellite cells, and discusses how muscle can be leveraged to help unravel androgen action in the brain.

Congratulations to Sabrina Tzivia Barsky on earning the Christine Hone-Buske award!