Scientists Find Protein Responsible for Brain-related Benefits of Exercise

According to a new study published in Science, a small protein found in liver is presumed to be beneficial for aging brain by catering exercise benefits. The new study was conducted in a mice model by a group of researchers from the University of California, UC San Francisco, Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research, San Francisco. These new research findings could potentially lead to new therapies to confer the neuroprotective effects of physical activity on people who are unable to exercise due to physical limitations.

Exercise is one of the best-studied and most powerful ways of protecting the brain from age-related cognitive decline and has been shown to improve cognition in individuals who are at considerable risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Yet, many individuals who are old and are unable to do physical exertions because of physical limitations or disabilities, may need an alternative approach. Therefore, researchers have long been looking for therapies that could confer some of the same neurological benefits in people with low physical activity levels.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

The new study revealed that in a mice model, after physical exertion, the concentration of a protein called Gpld1 into the blood increases, which is presumed to be released by liver after exercise. The study proved that the levels of this protein in the blood correspond to improved cognitive function in aged mice.  The study in collaboration with the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, determined that there is also an enzyme, whose levels got escalated in the blood of elderly humans who exercise regularly. But the researchers showed that simply increasing the amount of Gpld1 produced by the mouse liver could confer many of the same brain benefits as regular exercise.

“If there were a drug that produced the same brain benefits as exercise, everyone would be taking it. Now our study suggests that at least some of these benefits might one day be available in pill form,” said study senior author Saul Villeda, PhD, a UCSF assistant professor in the departments of Anatomy and of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science.

The mice blood was drawn and analysed, who had been exercising for 7 weeks. This was then administered it to sedentary aged mice. They found that four weeks of this treatment produced dramatic improvements in learning and memory in the older mice, similar to what was seen in the mice who had exercised regularly. When they examined the animals’ brains, they found evidence of enhanced production of new neurons in the region known as the hippocampus, a well-documented proxy for the rejuvenating benefits of exercise.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

The research team found that the Gpld1 protein levels increase in the blood circulation of mice after continuous exercise, and that Gpld1 protein concentration is correlated closely with improvements in the animals’ cognitive performance. The author of the study said, “Through this protein, the liver is responding to physical activity and telling the old brain to get young. This is a remarkable example of liver-to-brain communication that, to the best of our knowledge, no one knew existed. It makes me wonder what else we have been missing in neuroscience by largely ignoring the dramatic effects other organs might have on the brain, and vice versa.”

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