Take-home message: It is becoming increasingly accepted that substantial, sustained low-impact aerobic exercise has profound effects on neurocognitive function in the aged (see, for example, this very important paper from Art Kramer’s group). We here focus on a young and sedentary population, using tasks that tap into hippocampal function. We also measure circulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) as a proxy for brain BDNF. We show sustained improvements in memory and increased BDNF in this young adult exercise group – in whom plastic changes might be less visible because this group is less likely to show the variability in structure and function accompanying senescence.
Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males.
Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland.
Physical activity has been reported to improve cognitive function in humans and rodents, possibly via a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-regulated mechanism. In this study of human subjects, we have assessed the effects of acute and chronic exercise on performance of a face-name matching task, which recruits the hippocampus and associated structures of the medial temporal lobe, and the Stroop word-colour task, which does not, and have assessed circulating concentrations of BDNF and IGF-1 in parallel. The results show that a short period of high-intensity cycling results in enhancements in performance of the face-name matching, but not the Stroop, task. These changes in cognitive function were paralleled by increased concentration of BDNF, but not IGF-1, in the serum of exercising subjects. 3 weeks of cycling training had no effect on cardiovascular fitness, as assessed by VO2 scores, cognitive function, or serum BDNF concentration. Increases in fitness, cognitive function and serum BDNF response to acute exercise were observed following 5 weeks of aerobic training. These data indicate that both acute and chronic exercise improve medial temporal lobe function concomitant with increased concentrations of BDNF in the serum, suggesting a possible functional role for this neurotrophic factor in exercise-induced cognitive enhancement in humans.