Running helps to repair brain damage in animal models

A new Canadian study using animal models has found that running could be beneficial in repairing certain kinds of brain damage. — AFP pic
A new Canadian study using animal models has found that running could be beneficial in repairing certain kinds of brain damage. — AFP pic

OTTAWA, Oct 12 — A molecule whose production is triggered by running could help repair certain kinds of brain damage suggests a new study by researchers in Canada.

Carried out by a team at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa, the research looked at mice that had been genetically modified to have a small cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and movement.

The changes in cerebellum size caused the mice to have difficulty walking and a life span of just 25 to 40 days.

However, when the team gave some of the mice the opportunity to run freely on a wheel, they found that the mice had a more typical life span, living over 12 months. Their balance also improved and they gained more weight when compared to mice that didn’t run.

After comparing the brains of the mice, the researchers saw that the running mice had more insulation in their cerebellum compared to the non-running mice.

However for the effects to be long-lasting the mice needed to keep exercising. When the running wheel was removed, the symptoms returned and life span was shortened.

To look further at why running appeared to have a protective effect on the mice the team looked at differences in gene expression between the running and non-running mice and found that the molecule VGF nerve growth factor — which is released during exercise and has a feel good, anti-depressant effect — seemed to be responsible.

VGF appeared to be healing the protective coating around the nerve fibers, with Dr Matías Alvarez-Saavedra, the lead author of the study, commenting that, “We saw that the existing neurons became better insulated and more stable. This means that the unhealthy neurons worked better and the previously damaged circuits in the brain became stronger and more functional.”

And when the research team introduced the VGF protein into the bloodstream of non-running mice using a non-replicating virus the results were still similar to those seen in the running mice.

Although more research is needed in this area the team expressed their excitement at the findings, with Dr Picketts, senior author of the paper, commenting that, “What is clear is that VGF is important to kick-start healing in damaged areas of the brain.”

Further research could now lead to new treatments for multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative disorders where the insulation surrounding the nerves is damaged.

The findings of the study can be found published online in the journal Cell Reports. — AFP-Relaxnews