For the 50 million individuals worldwide ailing from Alzheimer’s disease, the announcements by pharmaceutical giants earlier this year that they will end research on therapeutics were devastating. The news is even more devastating considering projections that 100 million more people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease across the globe by 2050, all potentially without a medical means to better their quality of life.
As it happens, though, the pursuit of a therapeutic has been given a lifeline. New research shows that physical exercise can “clean up” the hostile environments in the brains of Alzheimer’s mice, allowing new nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain structure involved in memory and learning, to enable cognitive improvements, such as learning and memory. These findings imply that pharmacological agents that enrich the hippocampal environment to boost cell growth and survival might be effective to recuperate brain health and function in human Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Future attempts to generate pharmacological means to imitate and heighten the benefits of exercise—exercise mimetics—to increase adult hippocampal neurogenesis in addition to BDNF may someday provide an effective means of improving cognition in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, increasing neurogenesis in the earliest stages of the disease may protect against neuronal cell death later in the disease, providing a potentially powerful disease-modifying treatment strategy.
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