The neurogenesis, or the production of new neurons after the embryonic and, in some animals, neonatal period, takes place in the hippocampus and in another brain structure called the striatum. While neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus is essential for learning and memory, it has not been well understood how the process affects neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
A study conducted by a team of scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) concluded that neurogenesis might improve cognitive function in a lab mouse model with Alzheimer’s disease. The research shows that these beneficial effects on cognition can be blocked by the hostile, inflammatory environment present in the brains of patients with this disease.
The physical exercises can clear up the inflammation in the brain, allowing new neural cells to survive and improve, exerting a positive effect on cognition. Thus, physical activity can also be an essential ally against neurodegenerative diseases.
Physical exercises help the brain produce new neurons
“In our study, we demonstrated that exercise is one of the best ways to activate neurogenesis,” explains the team’s leader, Rudolph Tanzi, in a statement, “and then, by discovering the molecular and genetic events involved, we determined how to mimic the beneficial effects of physical exercises through gene therapy and pharmacological agents.
The results, published in Science, demonstrated that neurogenesis in the hippocampus, or production of new neurons, could be induced in the lab mouse model either by physical exercises or by treatment with drugs and gene therapy that promoted the birth of new neural cells.
“The lesson learned here was that it is not enough to activate the birth of new neural cells, but that the area in which they are generated must simultaneously be ‘cleaned’ to ensure that the new cells survive and thrive. Exercise can do that,” Rudolph Tanzi, the study’s leading author concluded.