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Neurodegener Dis Manag. 2011 Apr 1;1(2):157-170.

The role of exercise in facilitating basal ganglia function in Parkinson's disease.

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  • 1The George & MaryLou Boone Center for Parkinson's Disease Research, Department of Neurology, MCA-241, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA ; Division of Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


Epidemiological and clinical studies have suggested that exercise is beneficial for patients with Parkinson's disease (PD). Through research in normal (noninjured) animals, neuroscientists have begun to understand the mechanisms in the brain by which behavioral training and exercise facilitates improvement in motor behavior through modulation of neuronal function and structure, called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Recent studies are beginning to reveal molecules and downstream signaling pathways that are regulated during exercise and motor learning in animal models of PD and that are important in driving protective and/or adaptive changes in neuronal connections of the basal ganglia and related circuitry. These molecules include the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate (and their respective receptors) as well as neurotrophic factors (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). In parallel, human exercise studies have been important in revealing 'proof of concept' including examining the types and parameters of exercise that are important for behavioral/functional improvements and brain changes; the feasibility of incorporating and maintaining an exercise program in individuals with motor disability; and, importantly, the translation and investigation of exercise effects observed in animal studies to exercise effects on brain and behavior in individuals with PD. In this article we highlight findings from both animal and human exercise studies that provide insight into brain changes of the basal ganglia and its related circuitry and that support potentially key parameters of exercise that may lead to long-term benefit and disease modification in PD. In addition, we discuss the current and future impact on patient care and point out gaps in our knowledge where continuing research is needed. Elucidation of exercise parameters important in driving neuroplasticity, as well as the accompanying mechanisms that underlie experience-dependent neuroplasticity may also provide insights towards new therapeutic targets, including neurorestorative and/or neuroprotective agents, for individuals with PD and related neurodegenerative disorders.

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