Increases in Circulating Cell-Free DNA During Aerobic Running Depend on Intensity and Duration

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Increases in concentrations of circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) have recently been demonstrated to occur in a variety of exhausting and vigorous exercise settings. Here, the authors assessed the association of cfDNA with exercise duration and intensity in a controlled test–retest setting of a regenerative up-to-moderate-level aerobic run.


In a pretest, the lactate threshold (LT) was determined in 13 participants (range 10.8–13.4 km/h) by using a step-wise incremental running test. The speed of the 2 endurance runs was set to 9.6 km/h for 40 min; for the participants with an LT below the median (12.8 km/h; G1), this was a moderate aerobic run, and for those with an LT above the median, this was a regenerative run (G2). Capillary cfDNA, lactate, and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were assessed before, every 10 min during, and after the runs.


During the last 30 min of the 2 runs, lactate did not increase, whereas cfDNA increased steadily (3.46-fold for G1 and 2.05-fold for G2). Intraclass correlation for cfDNA was high (r = .81, P < .0001) for all runners but higher for male participants (r = .92, P < .0001). The correlations of cfDNA and lactate with RPEs were r = .58 (P < .0001) and r = .32 (P < .05), respectively.


Both duration and level of intensity were significantly associated with accumulation of cfDNA. The correlation with RPE and the high test–retest reliability suggest that cfDNA might be applicable as a marker to monitor individual training load for aerobic and intermittent exercises. Future randomized, controlled, longitudinal training studies will have to reveal the full potential of cfDNA as an exercise-physiology marker.

The authors are with the Dept of Sports Medicine, Disease Prevention, and Rehabilitation, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Address correspondence to Perikles Simon at