Key Points

  • A moderate-intensity endurance exercise training program in SCD patients increases the capillary network without changing its morphology.

  • This type of training also partly reverses the microvascular deficits commonly observed in SCD patients.

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a genetic hemoglobinopathy leading to two major clinical manifestations: severe chronic hemolytic anemia and iterative vaso-occlusive crises. SCD is also accompanied by profound muscle microvascular remodeling. The beneficial effects of endurance training on microvasculature are widely known. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of an endurance training program on microvasculature of skeletal muscle in SCD patients. A biopsy of the vastus lateralis muscle and submaximal incremental exercise were performed before and after the training period. Of the forty randomized SCD patients, complete data sets from 32 were obtained. The training group (n=15) followed a personalized moderate-intensity endurance training program, while the non-training (n=17) group maintained a normal lifestyle. Training consisted of three 40-minute cycle ergometer exercise sessions per week for 8 weeks. Histological analysis highlighted microvascular benefits in the training SCD patients compared to non-training patients, including increases in capillary density (CD) (P = .003), number of capillaries around a fiber (CAF) (P = .015) and functional exchange surface (LC/PF) (P < .0001). Conversely, no significant between-group difference was found in the morphology of capillaries. Indexes of physical ability also improved in the training patients. The moderate-intensity endurance exercise training program improved the muscle capillary network and partly reversed the microvascular defects commonly observed in skeletal muscle of SCD patients. This trial was registered at as #NCT02571088.

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