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Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Jul;25(5):971-80. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.014. Epub 2010 Oct 21.

Physical exercise increases adult neurogenesis and telomerase activity, and improves behavioral deficits in a mouse model of schizophrenia.

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Department of Cell and Neurobiology, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.


Epidemiological studies indicate that among other early life challenges, maternal infection with influenza during pregnancy increased the risk of developing schizophrenia in the child. One morphological manifestation of schizophrenia is hippocampal atrophy. In the hippocampus, playing a key role in learning and memory formation, new granule cell neurons are produced throughout life from resident precursor cells. We hypothesize that individuals exposed to a maternal anti-viral immune response would presumably enter life with a challenged neural precursor cell pool and might later be susceptible to psychiatric pathologies due to reduced adult neurogenesis. We used the injection of double-stranded RNA (polyriboinosinicpolyribocytidylic acid - PolyI:C) in pregnant C57Bl/6 and nestin-GFP reporter mice to induce a maternal viral-like infection and schizophrenia-like behavior in the offspring. In the progeny we found impairments in the open field test and in sensorimotor gating as measured by pre-pulse inhibition of the startle response. The behavioral deficits were accompanied by reduced baseline adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Telomerase activity in neural precursor cells was reduced from birth on and telomere shortening was found in the same cell type in adult life. When we subjected the progeny of viral-like infected dams to voluntary exercise, a known stimulus of adult hippocampal neurogenesis, we could rescue the phenotype in behavior, adult neurogenesis, and cellular senescence. In summary, maternal viral-like immune response reduced telomerase activity and resulted in telomere shortening in neural precursor cells. Further we demonstrate that beneficial behavioral and cellular effects induced by exercise can be studied in a rodent model of schizophrenia.

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