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J Neurophysiol. 2002 Nov;88(5):2187-95.

Voluntary exercise induces a BDNF-mediated mechanism that promotes neuroplasticity.

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Department of Physiological Science, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.


We have investigated potential mechanisms by which exercise can promote changes in neuronal plasticity via modulation of neurotrophins. Rodents were exposed to voluntary wheel running for 3 or 7 days, and their lumbar spinal cord and soleus muscle were assessed for changes in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), its signal transduction receptor (trkB), and downstream effectors for the action of BDNF on synaptic plasticity. Exercise increased the expression of BDNF and its receptor, synapsin I (mRNA and phosphorylated protein), growth-associated protein (GAP-43) mRNA, and cyclic AMP response element-binding (CREB) mRNA in the lumbar spinal cord. Synapsin I, a synaptic mediator for the action of BDNF on neurotransmitter release, increased in proportion to GAP-43 and trkB mRNA levels. CREB mRNA levels increased in proportion to BDNF mRNA levels. In separate experiments, the soleus muscle was paralyzed unilaterally via intramuscular botulinum toxin type A (BTX-A) injection to determine the effects of reducing the neuromechanical output of a single muscle on the neurotrophin response to motor activity. In sedentary BTX-A-treated rats, BDNF and synapsin I mRNAs were reduced below control levels in the spinal cord and soleus muscle. Exercise did not change the BDNF mRNA levels in the spinal cord of BTX-A-treated rats but further reduced the BDNF mRNA levels in the paralyzed soleus relative to the levels in sedentary BTX-A-treated rats. Exercise also restored synapsin I to near control levels in the spinal cord. These results indicate that basal levels of neuromuscular activity are required to maintain normal levels of BDNF in the neuromuscular system and the potential for neuroplasticity.

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