Research Article: Reliability of blood lactate as a measure of exercise intensity in different strains of mice during forced treadmill running

Date Published: May 3, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Simon Lønbro, Jennifer M. Wiggins, Thomas Wittenborn, Pernille Byrialsen Elming, Lori Rice, Christine Pampo, Jennifer A. Lee, Dietmar W. Siemann, Michael R. Horsman, Caroline Sunderland.


Exercise has long been known to be beneficial to human health. Studies aimed at understanding the effects of exercise specifically focus on predetermined exercise intensities defined by measuring the aerobic capacity of each individual. Many disease models involving animal training often establish aerobic capacity by using the maximal lactate steady state (MLSS), a widely used method in humans that has frequently been used in rodent studies. The MLSS is defined as the highest exercise intensity at which blood lactate concentration remains constant and is roughly equivalent to 70–80% of maximal aerobic capacity. Due to our up-coming experiments investigating the effect of different exercise intensities in specific strains of tumor-bearing mice, the aim of the present study was to determine the MLSS in athymic nude (NCr nu/nu and NMRI), CDF1, and C3H mice by treadmill running at increasing speeds. However, despite thorough exercise acclimation and the use of different exercise protocols and aversive stimuli, less than half of the experiments across strains pointed towards an established MLSS. Moreover, gently prodding the mice during low to moderate intensity running caused a 30–121% (p<0.05) increase in blood lactate concentration compared to running without stimulation, further questioning the use of lactate as a measure of exercise intensity. Overall, MLSS is difficult to determine and large variations of blood lactate levels were observed depending on the exercise protocol, mice handling strategy and strain. This should be considered when planning experiments in mice using forced exercise protocols.

Partial Text

The physiological benefits of exercise have been widely established for the prevention and management of numerous human diseases [1,2]. Exercise regimens elicit a dose-dependent response in terms of intensity, frequency, and duration, with variable exercise intensities inducing distinctive metabolic profiles [3,4]. Therefore, prescribed exercise interventions in the clinic need to be clearly and carefully defined in terms of routine, frequency, and intensity.

The initial purpose of this study was to establish the MLSS in athymic nude (NCr and NMRI), CDF1 and C3H mice during constant velocity treadmill runs using the classical MLSS assessment protocol [19]. Data by Ferreira et al. show that minimal physical activity display a slight rise in blood lactate above baseline within the first 5 to 10 minutes of exercise and are kept constant throughout the exercise when conducted below MLSS intensity [9]. This increase from rest was observed in all our exercise experiments. At exercise intensities above the lactate threshold, blood lactate values post-exercise should rise above baseline and continue to rise with increased exercise load. However, despite thorough exercise acclimation protocols, the use of different exercise durations and different methods to encourage mice to run, less than half of our experiments across different strains suggested there was an established MLSS. Thus, we were unable to consistently establish MLSS curves across strains. We speculate that the mice may be either, near volitional exhaustion (as opposed to physical exhaustion) at the high speeds tested since the number of times they required prodding or pacing increased significantly, or the increased metabolic demands may be causing mice to struggle.

Despite several experiments in different strains of mice, we were unable to consistently establish MLSS curves in mice during treadmill running. These findings are in contrast to previously published studies in different strains of mice. Inter-strain variability may explain some of these discrepancies; however, this is only to some extent supported by our data. In addition, the experiments and diverging results led to the hypothesis that handling and pacing the mice during the exercise largely influences blood lactate concentration, which may in turn affect their compliance. This was confirmed in subsequent experiments showing increases in post-exercise lactate when paced at submaximal running speeds compared to exercise regimens at the same speed without pacing. The results presented here suggest that handling the mice during forced running induces an increase in blood lactate and interpreting the lactate increase exclusively as exercise-induced becomes highly problematic. In general, blood lactate level may be a useful measure to assess the metabolic profile at a specific exercise intensity and could roughly define the anaerobic contribution of the metabolism during exercise a given exercise bout. Despite the invasiveness, lactate measurements and analyses are simple, affordable and thus a highly available method. Nevertheless, as indicated by the present findings, establishing the MLSS is difficult and inconsistent in regards to different exercise -protocols, pacing strategies and strains. Thus, when planning intensity-regulated experiments in mice other means of grading exercise intensity should be considered. Direct measurements of oxygen consumption has frequently been used [42] and would provide a reliable measure of exercise intensity, however costs, personnel training and operation are more demanding. Furthermore, since gas analyses require a closed chamber surrounding the treadmill, the only plausible motivational strategy would comprise electrical stimulation that may cause stress to the animals and likely affect both metabolism and performance [43]. In conclusion, determining exercise intensity in forced exercise models in mice is difficult and further studies are needed to investigate the metabolic changes introduced by the methods per se and its consequences on performance.