September 7, 2018—There are plenty of reasons to work out, and this may be another: Exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells that improve thinking in mice with a form of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study finds.
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers reported that it may be possible to develop drug and gene therapies that trigger the same beneficial effects in people with the brain disease.
“While we do not yet have the means for safely achieving the same effects in patients, we determined the precise protein and gene targets for developing ways to do so in the future,” study lead author Se Hoon Choi said in an MGH news release. Choi is in the hospital’s genetics and aging research unit.
In mice, Choi’s team said exercise triggered the production of new neurons (neurogenesis) in the brain regions where memories are encoded.
The study’s senior author, Rudolph Tanzi, is director of the genetics and aging research unit at MGH. He said that the research team “showed that exercise is one of the best ways to turn on neurogenesis. And then, by figuring out the molecular and genetic events involved, we determined how to mimic the beneficial effects of exercise through gene therapy and pharmacological agents.”
Results of animal studies aren’t always replicated in people, but Tanzi is optimistic.
“We will next explore whether safely promoting neurogenesis in Alzheimer’s patients will help alleviate the symptoms of the disease, and whether doing so in currently healthy individuals earlier in life can help prevent symptoms later on,” Tanzi said.
The study was published Sept. 6 in the journal Science.