During adolescence the brain undergoes significant maturation, and thus is thought to be especially vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol. Past research has shown that heavy alcohol use during adolescence is associated with abnormal hippocampal structure, function, and impaired cognition. In contrast to alcohol use, aerobic exercise has been linked with improved cognition, and has been shown to be neuroprotective against the detrimental effects of alcohol on the hippocampus in animals. These findings suggest exercise may be beneficial to the hippocampus in youth with alcohol use disorders (AUD). However, since little research has investigated the impact of aerobic fitness on cognition and brain function in healthy children and teens, it is necessary to first determine if the benefits of exercise established in animals translate to human adolescents. Thus, to better understand how exercise may influence the brain and behavior during adolescence, this cross- sectional study will examine the impact of exercise on hippocampal structure and function, as well as cognition. Specifically, the proposed study will use actigraphy and aerobic capacity testing, as well as functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging, neuropsychological testing, and spatial memory assessment to examine hippocampal structure and function in high-active and low-active male youth. Understanding how exercise impacts the brain may be the first step in determining how exercise-induced plasticity reported in the animal literature may translate to humans and may ultimately permit the development of strategies aimed at reducing cognitive deficits that are seen in adolescents with AUD.

Public Health Relevance

The brain undergoes rapid growth during adolescence, and choices teens make can affect normal brain development and cognition. The proposed research aims to understand how choosing to exercise during this time in life may impact the brain, as well as subsequent learning and memory. By examining how exercise relates to the brain and cognition in healthy teens, this study will guide future research examining if exercise may protect the brain and/or ameliorate the detrimental neurotoxic effects seen in youth with alcohol use disorders.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
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Witt, Ellen
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Oregon Health and Science University
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Herting, Megan M; Keenan, Madison F; Nagel, Bonnie J (2016) Aerobic Fitness Linked to Cortical Brain Development in Adolescent Males: Preliminary Findings Suggest a Possible Role of BDNF Genotype. Front Hum Neurosci 10:327
Herting, Megan M; Colby, John B; Sowell, Elizabeth R et al. (2014) White matter connectivity and aerobic fitness in male adolescents. Dev Cogn Neurosci 7:65-75
Nagel, Bonnie J; Herting, Megan M; Maxwell, Emily C et al. (2013) Hemispheric lateralization of verbal and spatial working memory during adolescence. Brain Cogn 82:58-68
Mackiewicz Seghete, Kristen L; Cservenka, Anita; Herting, Megan M et al. (2013) Atypical spatial working memory and task-general brain activity in adolescents with a family history of alcoholism. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 37:390-8
Seghete, Kristen L Mackiewicz; Herting, Megan M; Nagel, Bonnie J (2013) White matter microstructure correlates of inhibition and task-switching in adolescents. Brain Res 1527:15-28
Herting, Megan M; Nagel, Bonnie J (2013) Differences in brain activity during a verbal associative memory encoding task in high- and low-fit adolescents. J Cogn Neurosci 25:595-612
Herting, Megan M; Maxwell, Emily C; Irvine, Christy et al. (2012) The impact of sex, puberty, and hormones on white matter microstructure in adolescents. Cereb Cortex 22:1979-92
Herting, Megan M; Nagel, Bonnie J (2012) Aerobic fitness relates to learning on a virtual Morris Water Task and hippocampal volume in adolescents. Behav Brain Res 233:517-25
Cservenka, Anita; Herting, Megan M; Nagel, Bonnie J (2012) Atypical frontal lobe activity during verbal working memory in youth with a family history of alcoholism. Drug Alcohol Depend 123:98-104