Run to Remember: A Mouse-Model Study Investigating the Mechanism of Exercise-Induced Neuroprotection

Research in animal models shows physical exercise can induce changes in the brain. In humans, studies also revealed changes in brain physiology and function resulting from physical exercise, including increased hippocampal and cognitive performance (1). Several studies in mice and rats also demonstrated that exercise can improve learning and memory and decrease neuroinflammation in models of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative pathologies (2); these benefits are tied to increased plasticity and decreased inflammation in the hippocampus in mice (2). If regular time pounding the pavement does improve brain function, what is the underlying molecular biology of exercise-induced neuroprotection? Can we identify the cellular pathways and components involved? Can we detect important components in blood plasma? And, is the benefit of these components transferrable between organisms? De Miguel and colleagues set out to answer these questions and describe their results in a recent study published in Nature.

A recent study investigates the underlying molecular mechanisms of exercise-induced neuroprotection in a mouse model.
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A Clean Brain Is a Healthy Brain

College student sleeping instead of studying
Can you sleep your way to a “cleaner” brain?
It is hard to undermine the role of cleanliness in disease prevention, both internally and externally. Within our body, the lymphatic system plays an important role in clearing the intercellular passages of large and potentially harmful toxic molecules and recirculate back into the blood stream. This enables the transport of these molecules to liver for inactivation and subsequent removal from the body. Therefore, lymphatic system prevents build-up of soluble proteins in the interstitial space. Typically, more metabolically active a cell is, more intricate is the lymphatic vasculature around it. This observation was in contrast to our scientific knowledge a few years ago, when we believed that due to the presence of the blood-brain barrier, there was no lymphatic system active in the brain. The brain, as we know, is highly active metabolically and the removal of harmful solutes and proteins from the neuronal vicinity is of utmost urgency. For a long time it was believed that cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), while coursing through the brain also removed cellular metabolite by products, apart from carrying nutrients to brain tissue, through a process known as diffusion. This is a rather slow process and it did not very well explain how large molecules such as proteins were removed from the interstitial place.

Recently, using two-photon imaging technique in live mice, scientists at Rochester discovered (1) that there is another vasculature functioning in the brain which circulates CSF to every corner of the brain much more efficiently, through bulk flow or convection. Continue reading “A Clean Brain Is a Healthy Brain”

What Does Tau Protein Have to Do with Football, Dementia, and Suicide?

In February of 2011, tragedy struck when Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bears football player, committed suicide by shooting himself (1). However, Dave was not alone; his suicide joined the suicides and other violent endings to former and current football players such as Andre Waters (Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals), Owen Thomas (U. Pennsylvania), and Kenny McKinley (Pittsburgh Steelers).

One could shrug off the deaths of these players are simple coincidence, if not for an elusive, yet chilling, central theme found in the depths of their brains: small, yet insidious, neurofibrillary tangles containing the microtubule-associated protein tau. Such tau-containing tangles are the molecular hallmarks of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) or Alzheimer’s Disease-riddled brains. The brains of people who are not diagnosed with FTD or Alzheimer’s Disease do not contain these tau tangles.

If that is the case, why in the world were Dave Dueson, Andre Waters, Owen Thomas and Kenny McKinley found to have these tau tangles? Continue reading “What Does Tau Protein Have to Do with Football, Dementia, and Suicide?”

Mice, Men and Alzheimer’s

I know that results in mice do not always translate to humans. I know that. I know that clinical trials can take years and that there are many hurdles between the first promising result in an animal model and the actual development of some form of treatment. Nevertheless I could not stifle a surge of hope when I heard about recent research suggesting that GM-CSF treatment reversed cognitive impairment and amyloid build-up in Alzheimer mice.

I have watched two family members succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. To me the news that something not only halted progression but actually reversed some of the cognitive impairment is huge. I know…its only in mice, but it’s the most promising news about this disease that I’ve heard in a while. And there’s more, the effective factor, GM-CSF, is already available in the drug Leukine, which is currently used to reduce risk of infection in cancer patients. Continue reading “Mice, Men and Alzheimer’s”