RESEARCHERS have discovered that exercise can reverse cognitive decline in mice, and are now looking to see if it may have the same impact on humans.
The team from the University of Queensland's Queensland Brain Institute found that 35 days of voluntary physical exercise improved the learning and memory of ageing mice.
Led by Emeritus Professor Perry Bartlett and Dan Blackmore, the team found an optimal period of exercise, or "sweet spot", that facilitated greatly improved "spatial learning".
"We found that growth hormone (GH) levels peaked during this time, and we've been able to demonstrate that artificially raising GH in sedentary mice was also effective in improving their cognitive skills," Dr Blackmore said.
"We discovered GH stimulates the production of new neurons in the hippocampus - the region of the brain critically important to learning and memory.
"This is an important discovery for the thousands of Australians diagnosed with dementia every year."
The team were also able to explore how the production of new neurons changed the brain's circuitry, by using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
"We were able to study the brain following exercise, and for the first time identify the critical changes in the structure and functional circuitry of the hippocampus required for improved spatial learning," Dr Blackmore said.
Professor Bartlett said the research was proof that cognitive decline in old age was related to the reduced production of new neurons.
"It underlines the importance of being able to activate the neurogenic stem cells in the brain that we first identified 20 years ago," Professor Bartlett said.
Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia, and in the absence of a medical breakthrough, there will be an estimated 1.1 million Australians living with the disease by 2058.
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