A study by a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) research team finds that neurogenesis — inducing the production of new neurons — in the brain structure in which memories are encoded can improve cognitive function in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Their investigation shows that cognition can be blocked by the hostile inflammatory environment in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and that physical exercise can “clean up” that environment, allowing new nerve cells to survive and thrive and improving cognition in the Alzheimer’s mice.
“In our study we showed that exercise is one of the best ways to turn on neurogenesis and then, by figuring out the molecular and genetic events involved, we determined how to mimic the beneficial effects of exercise through gene therapy and pharmacological agents,” said Rudolph Tanzi, director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit, vice chair of the Department of Neurology, and co-director of the Henry and Allison McCance Center for Brain Health at MGH. Tanzi is the senior author of the paper published in Science.
Lead author Se Hoon Choi of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit said, “While we do not yet have the means for safely achieving the same effects in patients, we determined the precise protein and gene targets for developing ways to do so in the future.”
Adult neurogenesis – production of new neurons after the embryonic and, in some animals, neonatal periods – takes place in the hippocampus and another brain structure called the striatum.
While adult hippocampal neurogenesis is essential to learning and memory, how the process impacts neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s has not been well understood.