The protein that has the same effect on the brain as physical activity
A little-studied liver protein may be responsible for the benefits of exercise on the aging brain, according to a new study in mice. The findings could lead to new therapies that confer the neuroprotective effects associated with physical activity to people who are unable to exercise for various reasons.
Numerous studies have shown that physical activity is the most powerful way to protect the brain from age-related cognitive decline and has been shown to improve cognition in individuals at risk for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. But many older adults are unable to exercise regularly due to limitations or disabilities, and researchers have sought over the years therapies that could offer them some of the same neurological benefits.
The new study, published on the 9th of July 2020, showed that after exercise in mice, their liver secretes into the blood a protein called Gpld1. The levels of this protein in the blood correspond to an improved cognitive function in older mice. It has also been found that this enzyme is higher in the blood of older people who are constantly doing physical activity. Simply increasing the amount of Gpld1 produced by the mouse’s liver could provide many of the same benefits to the brain as the positive impact of regular exercise.
Other laboratory experiments have shown that the Gpld1 protein produced by the liver does not cross the so-called blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from toxic or infectious agents in the blood. Instead, the protein appears to exert its effects on the brain through pathways that reduce inflammation and blood clotting throughout the body. Both blood clotting and inflammation increase with age and have been linked to dementia and cognitive decline.
Researchers are now working to better understand how Gpld1 interacts with other biochemical signaling systems to produce its positive effects on the brain, in hopes of identifying specific targets for therapies that could confer many of the benefits of physical activity in the future for the aged brain.