Researchers have identified a molecule called irisin that is produced in the brain during endurance exercise and has neuroprotective effects.
Research has shown that exercise is good for the brain. Researchers were able to artificially increase the levels of irisin in the blood to activate genes involved in learning and memory. The findings, published online October 10 in the Cell Press journal Cell Metabolism, may be useful for designing drugs that utilize this exercise-induced molecule to guard against neurodegenerative diseases and improve cognition in the aging population.
While it's known that exercise can boost cognitive function and lessen symptoms of neurological diseases like depression, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease, the mechanisms underlying these effects are unclear. One important player is thought to be a growth factor named brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
The team also found that raising levels of irisin in the circulation caused the molecule to cross the blood brain barrier, where it 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," says Dr. Spiegelman. 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.