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Endurance Exercise Boosts Brain Health

Update Date: Oct 10, 2013 04:20 PM EDT

Hit the gym to boost your brain. New research reveals more evidence that exercise boosts brain health.

Scientists found the brain produces a protective molecule called irisin when during endurance exercise.  In the study, researchers were able to activate genes involved in learning and memory by increasing levels of irisin in the blood.

Researchers said that latest findings could pave the way for designing drugs that utilize this exercise-induced molecule to guard against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers have long known that exercise can boost cognitive function and lessen symptoms of neurological diseases like dementia, depression and stroke. While the mechanisms underlying these effects are unclear, a growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are is believed to be one important player in protecting brain health.

Lead researcher Dr. Bruce Spiegelman of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School and his team conducted experiments on mice and found that a molecule called FNDC5 and its cleavage product, irisin, are elevated by endurance exercise in the brain and increase BDNF expression. In contrast, mice genetically engineered to have low irisin levels in the brain had lower levels of BDNF.

Spiegelman and his team also found that elevating levels of irisin in the circulation caused the molecule to cross the blood brain barrier, which then increased expression of BDNF and activated genes involved in cognition.

"Our results indicate that FNDC5/irisin has the ability control a very important neuroprotective pathway in the brain," Spiegelman said in a news release. The researchers next plan to work on developing a stable form of the irisin protein that can be given to mice by injection and may augment the brain's natural anti-degeneration pathways.

The findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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