Students conduct research on blood lactate levels

April 15, 2015
Blood Lactate Levels Research
Blood lactate levels research

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Five University of Wisconsin-Platteville students are conducting a research project to investigate the relationship between resting blood lactate levels and academic performance.

Lactate is produced at the end of a metabolic pathway called glycolysis. Glycolysis is the first metabolic pathway that glucose (sugar) enters for energy (Adenosine triphosphate or ATP) production.

The students are enrolled in Health Promotion at the Worksite, Kinesiology, Nutrition and Advanced Nutrition, lecture-based courses at UW-Platteville, taught by Dr. Matthew Rogatzki, assistant professor of health and human performance.

Student research assistants – or primary investigators – include Peter Peterson, a junior health and human performance major from Darlington, Wis.; Alyssa Santucci, a senior biology major with an emphasis in ecology from Carol Stream, Ill.; Mitchell McNett, a senior biology major from Cuba City, Wis.; Jenna Webb, a senior biology major with an emphasis in biohealth and physiology from Anchorage, Alaska; and Brittanee Samuelson, a senior biology major from Fennimore, Wis.

One time each week for eight weeks from February-December 2015, the student research assistants measure and analyze participants’ blood lactate concentration before and after class to determine if there is a relationship between resting lactate levels and final grade in a lecture-based course. They also monitor participants’ heart rates before, during and after class to estimate if catecholamines – neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and dopamine – rise during lecture and also play a role in academic performance.

About 15 minutes prior to the start of class, the students being studied arrive at the class and are fitted for a Polar GoFit heart rate monitor. After resting for at least five minutes, the student research assistants clean the participants’ designated fingers with a 70 percent alcohol wipe and then perform a finger prick. Following the finger prick, a drop of blood is massaged from the finger and wiped away as the first drop may contain significant amounts of interstitial fluid resulting in an inaccurate reading.

After the first drop is wiped away, the research assistants massage a second drop from participants’ fingers. These second blood drops are touched to the end of the Lactate Plus test strips and the blood is drawn into the test strips via capillary action. The Lactate Plus meter then gives a blood lactate reading within 13 seconds. The primary investigators record the lactate data into a designated lab notebook. The participants then remain after class to have their blood lactate concentration analyzed again and have the heart rate monitors removed.

At the end of the spring and fall 2015 semesters, the blood lactate concentrations and heart rates will be compared to each participant's grade percentage to see if there is a correlation.

“Currently, we have only three weeks of data collected, so it is much too early to make any inferences based off our current data,” said Rogatzki. “The experimental hypothesis is that students who have elevated resting lactate levels during class will have a higher grade percentage at the end of the semester compared to students with normal resting lactate levels. Average heart rate is not expected to change during the study.”

“I am really curious as to how the lactate levels will correspond to the overall grades of the class,” said Peterson. “This research project has given me valuable experience working with clients in a clinical type setting. This is extremely valuable if I decide to pursue a career in cardiac rehab.”

"The knowledge gained from this study by participants and society may result in overall better academic performance and potentially healthier lifestyles.”

                            -Dr. Matthew Rogatzki

“I really enjoy the hands-on experience I get from research,” said Webb. “It gives me an advantage over other applicants when I apply for graduate programs.”

Rogatzki said that the most surprising find so far is that a few students consistently have blood lactate concentrations following lecture that are typically seen after intense exercise. This may occur since previous research has shown that brain activity can increase lactate concentration within the brain. Although the brain is typically thought to take up lactate from the blood through monocarboxylate tranporters, those same monocarboxylate transporter have been shown to allow lactate produced in the brain to enter the blood thereby elevating blood lactate levels.

Rogatzki said that if the experimental hypothesis is correct, knowing that blood lactate concentration is correlated to academic performance will provide a metabolic mechanism for students to improve academic performance by participating in activities such as high intensity exercise to increase blood lactate concentration before sitting through a lecture or taking an exam.

“The knowledge gained from this study by participants and society may result in overall better academic performance and potentially healthier lifestyles,” Rogatzki said. “These results may also benefit physical education programs in schools by providing a cognitive reason for students to participate in high intensity physical exercise.”

“Currently, it is known that a bout of exercise prior to performing a cognitive task will improve cognitive performance,” he said. “However, the understanding of why this occurs has not been elucidated. Evidence has suggested that an increase in catecholamines and endorphins as a result of exercise is the cause, yet improved cognitive performance is only observed when the exercise is intense enough to produce high lactate levels.”

Rogatzki said this is important because recent research has shown that the brain may prefer lactate above glucose as a substrate for energy production. Evidence of increasing blood lactate levels correlating with improved academic performance without increased heart rate would more strongly suggest that it is the increase in blood lactate levels that cause improved cognitive function, not an increase in catecholamines, he added.

Rogatzki is interested in this area of research because lactate was once thought to be a dead-end waste product only produced during anaerobic metabolism. “It is now known that lactate is always being produced and plays an important role in muscle and possibly neuronal metabolism,” he said. “This dramatic change in the lactate paradigm intrigues me and I want to continue investigating and add to the current understanding of this metabolite.”

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. This student research project aligns with three of the priorities, including providing an outstanding education, fostering a community of achievement and respect and enriching the tri-state region. 

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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