It is widely accepted that genes interact with environment to affect brain function and behavior. Exercise is a potent environmental factor with known benefits for physical health such as strength and stamina. The recent discovery that exercise can also enhance cognitive performance has generated much enthusiasm and interest, but mechanisms are far less understood. A growing body of evidence in rodent animal models suggests that exercise is a natural generator of neural plasticity. One example is growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, which is strongly regulated by exercise along with many other changes (e.g., trophic factors, growth factors, capillaries). Harnessing mechanisms of the natural generator could be useful for treating a wide range of neurological problems such as cognitive aging, neurodegenerative disease, stroke, or head trauma. One approach to find a mechanism is to systematically block changes in each hypothesized substrate (e.g., new neurons). Another is unbiased exploration of genetic mechanisms. We propose both. Preliminary data suggest that exercise induced changes in hippocampal neurogenesis and learning vary depending on genotype in mice.
Aims 1 and 2 are to identify sets of genotypes that display larger versus smaller benefits. This crucial information will be contributed to a database of phenotypic and genetic information on these strains, and used in the future to identify mechanisms for cognitive benefits of exercise at multiple levels of biological organization from genes to physiology to behavior. In addition to laying the groundwork for the genetic analysis, we also propose an innovative method in aim 3 to reduce neurogenesis in exercising mice, focal gamma radiation, to directly test the hypothesis that new neurons are required for enhanced learning from exercise in predisposed genotypes. For this, we propose to use the genotype C57BL/6J, as proof of principal, because a strong correlation between exercise, neurogenesis, and learning is well established for this strain.
The goal of this project is to discover mechanisms for pro cognitive effects of exercise at multiple levels of biological organization from genes to physiology to behavior.
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