Thursday, July 8, 2010

Get Smart

Exercise helps keep your brain sharp:

[S]cientists [at Northwestern University] have been manipulating the levels of bone-morphogenetic protein or BMP in the brains of laboratory mice. BMP, which is found in tissues throughout the body, affects cellular development in various ways, some of them deleterious. In the brain, BMP has been found to contribute to the control of stem cell divisions. Your brain, you will be pleased to learn, is packed with adult stem cells, which, given the right impetus, divide and differentiate into either additional stem cells or baby neurons. As we age, these stem cells tend to become less responsive. They don’t divide as readily and can slump into a kind of cellular sleep. It’s BMP that acts as the soporific, says Dr. Jack Kessler, the chairman of neurology at Northwestern and senior author of many of the recent studies. The more active BMP and its various signals are in your brain, the more inactive your stem cells become and the less neurogenesis you undergo. Your brain grows slower, less nimble, older.

But exercise countermands some of the numbing effects of BMP, Dr. Kessler says. In work at his lab, mice given access to running wheels had about 50 percent less BMP-related brain activity within a week. They also showed a notable increase in Noggin, a beautifully named brain protein that acts as a BMP antagonist. The more Noggin in your brain, the less BMP activity exists and the more stem cell divisions and neurogenesis you experience. Mice at Northwestern whose brains were infused directly with large doses of Noggin became, Dr. Kessler says, “little mouse geniuses, if there is such a thing.” They aced the mazes and other tests.

Whether exercise directly reduces BMP activity or increases production of Noggin isn’t yet known and may not matter. The results speak for themselves. “If ever exercise enthusiasts wanted a rationale for what they’re doing, this should be it,” Dr. Kessler says. Exercise, he says, through a complex interplay with Noggin and BMP, helps to ensure that neuronal stem cells stay lively and new brain cells are born.
So don't be stupid: Get up and exercise.

(Source: The New York Times)