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Physical Activity and Nutrition - Vol. 24 , No. 2

[ Editorial ]
Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry - Vol. 23, No. 4, pp.23-25
Abbreviation: J Exerc Nutrition Biochem
ISSN: 2233-6842 (Online)
Print publication date 31 Dec 2019
Received 19 Dec 2019 Revised 19 Dec 2019 Accepted 19 Dec 2019
DOI: https://doi.org/10.20463/jenb.2019.0027

Physical Activity and Brain Plasticity
Hyo Youl Moon1, 2, 3 ; Henriette van Praag4
1Dept. of Physical Education, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
2Institute of Sport Science, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
3School of Biological Sciences, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea
4Department of Biomedical Science, Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, USA

Correspondence to : *Henriette van Praag, PhD Department of Biomedical Science Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and Brain Institute Florida Atlantic University Jupiter, FL 33458 USA Tel: +82-2880-7802 E-mail: hvanpraag@health.fau.edu

©2019 The Korean Society for Exercise Nutrition
©2019 Hyo Youl Moon et al.; License Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the creative commons attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the orginal work is properly cited.
Funding Information ▼


Recent research suggests that the brain has capable of remarkable plasticity and physical activity can enhance it. In this editorial letter, we summarize the role of hippocampal plasticity in brain functions. Furthermore, we briefly sketched the factors and mechanisms of motion that influence brain plasticity. We conclude that physical activity can be an encouraging intervention for brain restoration through neuronal plasticity. At the same time, we suggest that a mechanistic understanding of the beneficial effects of exercise should be accompanied in future studies.

Keywords: Physical activity, Neurogenesis, Brain plasticity, Hippocampus

Studies have demonstrated that physical activity affects brain plasticity, cognition and mood1-4. Indeed, animal experiments and clinical studies show tremendous biological and psychological benefits of physical activity, and accompanying structural and functional changes in the various brain regions5,6. In recent years, the effect of physical activity on memory improvement in neurodegenerative diseases patients has attracted attention7. The circuits of the limbic system are known to regulate learning and memory function8,9. Subjects with cognitive impairment have been shown to have reduced volume in the hippocampus and forebrain10-12. Adult neurons have been thought to be unable to be replaced by new cells because cell division is over, but recent studies have found that new neurons are born (neurogenesis) in select regions of the adult brain and may contribute to maintainance of neuronal function13. Experiments utilizing the thymidine analog bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) to label dividing cells and several genetic markers have revealed that hippocampal dentate gyrus is one of the brain regions showing the neurogenesis in mature animals, and this was conserved in rodents, primates, and humans13,14. Adult neurogenesis was also proven in bird studies; a comparison of hippocampus size and number of neurons with a long-traveled migratory bird and a non-traveling migratory bird also shows that hippocampus may be important for memory and experience15. In addition, chickadees exhibit enhanced neurogenesis when they store seeds for winter16.

Neuronal plasticity is key feature for the cognition and it is regulated by neurogenesis, synapse formation, angiogenesis and changes in neurotransmitter system3,6,9. Animal experiments using voluntary wheel cages and treadmills have reported that exercise increases the proliferation of neurons in the hippocampus of rodents3. Exercise induces the changes of the neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin and acetylcholine and the release of factors such as BDNF and IGF-12,17. Along with these changes, exercise improves the cognitive functions such as spatial and executive functions18,19. These changes may also be very effective interventions in aging and degenerative brain disease models20,21.

Recent studies have shown that exercise promotes the release of factors such as peripheral BDNF22, IRSIN23, IGF24, and Cathepsin B5, which are systemically delivered to the brain and may play a role in cognitive function. Furthermore, we found that conditioned media which containing secreted proteins from skeletal muscle cells could influence adult hippocampal neural progenitor cell (aNPC) differentiation25. Exercise induced neurogenesis can be also affected through epigenetic modifications26 or the balance of intestinal microflora27. In fact, even though the mechanisms are not clearly investigated, there are reports demonstrating exercise affects intestinal microorganisms28 or brain epigenetics29. There has been little research on the effects of metabolites on the brain and nerve system. Studies have shown that these metabolites are not only end products during metabolism but also act as hormones in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions as a signaling material30,31. In the near future, exercise-induced changes in these biological markers may be the candidate target of new exercise mimetics and may play an important role in proposing or prescribing exercise appropriate to the individual's health status. Most of the cross sectional studies investigating changes in the human brain after exercise have limitations in observing the neuronal adaptation during or after exercise. Future studies are needed to understand the effects and mechanisms of exercise from a systemic and longitudinal view. Moreover, human studies are needed to show that exercise is important for the learning and memory function via hippocampal neurogenesis.


This work was supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF, 700-20190019) and Korea Mouse Phenotype Center (NRF, 2019M3A9D5A01102794).

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