Source: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock The recent study by first author Mychael Lourenco et al., “ Exercise-Linked FNDC5/Irisin Rescues Synaptic Plasticity and Memory Defects in Alzheimer’s Models ,” adds to a growing body of evidence that exercise-induced irisin may protect against neurodegeneration and boost memory in both humans and mice.
This pioneering research was explicitly designed to measure how the brain responds to single bouts of aerobic activity in otherwise sedentary mice. In recent years, there's been a lot of human and animal research on the long-term neuroprotective benefits of daily exercise. However, until now, neuroscientists haven't explored how "acute" single episodes of physical activity trigger exercise-activated genes in the brain that may affect learning and memory .As the authors explain, "Our results provide the first evidence for activity-dependent expression of an I-BAR protein [Mtss1L] as well as a role in experience-dependent remodeling of synapses." To the best of my knowledge, this is the first study to pinpoint Mtss1L as a possible exercise-induced enhancer of synaptic function.
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In the paper's discussion, the authors sum up the potential real-world significance of their findings:
"How might these results relate to the beneficial effects of exercise? One possibility consistent with our data is that exercise acts as a preconditioning signal that primes exercise-activated neurons for contextual information incoming during the several days following exercise. This represents a broader time window than is usually associated with short-term plasticity. For example, human studies give support for the idea that exercise within four hours of a learning task improved memory performance (van Dongen et al., 2016). It will be interesting to examine if exercise enhances the pattern of granule cell responses to spatial or context-specific tasks. Our identification of Mtss1L as an activity-dependent I-BAR domain protein makes it ideally suited to act as an early mediator of structural plasticity following neural activity."
For the next phase of this research, Westbrook and colleagues at OHSU plan to couple specific learning tasks with acute bouts of aerobic exercise in an attempt to better understand how triggering exercise-induced Mtss1L may prime the brain for learning.