Exercise and the Brain


Source: Russo-Neustadt A, et al. Exercise, antidepressant medications, and enhanced brain derived neurotrophic factor expression. Neuropsychopharmacology 1999;21(5):679-682.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (bdnf) is a widely distributed growth factor in the brain with profound influence on neural activity. Both antidepressants and physical exercise have been shown to increase BDNF mRNA levels in that hippocampus. Russo-Neustadt and colleagues note that BDNF expression is diminished in the hippocampus of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and that antidepressants are helpful in attenuating problematic behavioral symptoms common in patients with dementia.

In the current study, rats were treated with either a monoamino oxidase inhibitor or a tricyclic antidepressant for a 20-day period with and without concomitant physical activity. Differences in BDNF mRNA levels between groups were determined by two-way analysis of variance. The combination of antidepressant and physical activity led to a potentiation of BNDF mRNA density in the hippocampus, above levels seen with either intervention alone.

Comment by Lauren B. Marangell, MD

Arguably, the area of scientific development most likely to lead to promising breakthroughs for neuropsychiatric disorders involves elucidation of the mechanism and therapeutic effects beyond simple receptor pharmacology. Recent evidence that antidepressant and exercise, and now the combination of both, increase the neurotrophic factor BDNF is a prime example. These data are particularly interesting in light of the relatively recent finding that the adult human brain is capable of neurogenesis, at least in the hippocampus. For the time being, clinicians have another reason to recommend physical activity in their patients.