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J Neurosci. 2001 Aug 1;21(15):5678-84.

Circulating insulin-like growth factor I mediates the protective effects of physical exercise against brain insults of different etiology and anatomy.

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  • 1Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, Cajal Institute, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 28002 Madrid, Spain.


Physical exercise ameliorates age-related neuronal loss and is currently recommended as a therapeutical aid in several neurodegenerative diseases. However, evidence is still lacking to firmly establish whether exercise constitutes a practical neuroprotective strategy. We now show that exercise provides a remarkable protection against brain insults of different etiology and anatomy. Laboratory rodents were submitted to treadmill running (1 km/d) either before or after neurotoxin insult of the hippocampus (domoic acid) or the brainstem (3-acetylpyridine) or along progression of inherited neurodegeneration affecting the cerebellum (Purkinje cell degeneration). In all cases, animals show recovery of behavioral performance compared with sedentary ones, i.e., intact spatial memory in hippocampal-injured mice, and normal or near to normal motor coordination in brainstem- and cerebellum-damaged animals. Furthermore, exercise blocked neuronal impairment or loss in all types of injuries. Because circulating insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), a potent neurotrophic hormone, mediates many of the effects of exercise on the brain, we determined whether neuroprotection by exercise is mediated by IGF-I. Indeed, subcutaneous administration of a blocking anti-IGF-I antibody to exercising animals to inhibit exercise-induced brain uptake of IGF-I abrogates the protective effects of exercise in all types of lesions; antibody-treated animals showed sedentary-like brain damage. These results indicate that exercise prevents and protects from brain damage through increased uptake of circulating IGF-I by the brain. The practice of physical exercise is thus strongly recommended as a preventive measure against neuronal demise. These findings also support the use of IGF-I as a therapeutical aid in brain diseases coursing with either acute or progressive neuronal death.

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