Exercise may help treat Alzheimer’s disease, Harvard study shows

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In a new study from Harvard Medical School, researchers found that new insight into the workings of the hormone irisin shows it has the ability to spur the cognitive benefits of exercise.

They found that irisin, secreted by muscles during exercise, could be an effective therapeutic for addressing deficits of the brain that result from Alzheimer’s disease.

The finding holds promise for treating cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.

Preserving cognitive function is a major challenge in an increasingly aging population.

Exercise is known to have positive effects on brain health, which is why identifying key mediators of those neuroprotective benefits, like irisin, has become such a critical goal of research.

In the study, the team showed that genetic deletion of irisin impairs cognitive function in exercise, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease, which was in part caused by alterations of newborn neurons in the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is the compartment of the brain that stores memories and is the first to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

At the same time, the team found that elevating irisin levels in the bloodstream improved cognitive function and neuroinflammation in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.

They say that these effects can possibly go well beyond what exercise itself can bring. This is particularly important inasmuch as irisin, a small natural peptide, would be much easier to develop into a therapy

The scientists delivered only the irisin portion through an adeno-associated viral vector approach to the liver, similar to gene replacement therapy, and discovered irisin was able to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly affect the brain.

The researchers further found that irisin treatment was effective in Alzheimer’s disease mouse models even after the development of significant pathology.

This could have implications for intervention in humans with Alzheimer’s disease where therapy typically starts after patients have become symptomatic.

Another important finding of the study is that irisin protects against neuroinflammation by acting directly on glial cells in the brain.

The team says it’s hard to imagine anything better for brain health than daily exercise, and the findings shed new light on the mechanism involved: protecting against neuro-inflammation, perhaps the biggest killer of brain neurons as we age.

If you care about Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about a noninvasive treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and findings of subconscious changes in movement may predict Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information about Alzheimer’s and your health, please see recent studies about new method shows promise in treating Alzheimer’s and related dementias and results showing a new early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is published in Nature Metabolism. One author of the study is Christiane Wrann.

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