Running May Trigger Molecule That Repairs Brain Cells

couple getting fit togetherRunning is considered as a popular physical activity to stay fit. But little to people realize that it can do something even better, based on a recent study. It indicates that running may trigger a molecule in the brain to repair brain cells.

According to a study researchers from the University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital, a certain molecule that is triggered by running can repair certain kinds of brain damage in animal models. The said molecule, called VGF nerve growth factor, can promote the healing of the protective coating that covers and insulates the nerve fibers. This discovery may to open the way to finding new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis that is characterized by damage to the nerve insulation in brain cells.

The discovery was made when the researchers were studying mice that was genetically modified to have a small cerebellum, a part of the brain that controls movement and balance. The mice had trouble walking around and had an average life span of between 25 to 40 days. But the researchers found out that when these mice were given every opportunity to run freely on a wheel, they can live for up to 12 months or more, quite an extension to their average life span. Not only that, the mice that ran also gained weight as well as improved their sense of balance as compared to the more sedentary of their siblings. The mice group with improved life spans have to keep running in order to enjoy the benefits. When the researchers removed the running wheel, their symptoms returned and they did not live as long.

Further research showed that the mice who enjoyed running freely while they were alive also showed that they gained a significant amount of insulation in their cerebellum compared to the sedentary group. In order to further discover the reasons behind running and its effect on the two mice groups, the researchers looked into the differences of gene expression between the running and sedentary mice groups. They identified that the VGF molecule as a prime candidate for this beneficial effect. The VGF molecule is one of the hundreds of molecules that the muscles and the brain release into the body during exercise. The VGF has an anti-depressant effect and is known to make exercise feel good.

In order to test this out, the researchers used a non-replicating virus to introduce VGF protein into sedentary mice.  The results were similar to the mice group that ran, increased insulation in the damaged cerebellum and with fewer exhibited symptoms of disease.

According to Dr. Matías Alvarez-Saavedra, the lead author on the paper, “We saw that the existing neurons became better insulated and more stable. This means that the unhealthy neurons worked better and the previously damaged circuits in the brain became stronger and more functional.”

Source: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. (2016, October 11). Running triggers production of a molecule that repairs the brain in animal models. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2016 from


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