Researchers at the University of Queensland have conducted pre-clinical studies demonstrating that an injection of a specific blood factor can replicate the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain. In their experiments using aged mice as a model, the research team, led by Dr. Odette Leiter and Dr. Tara Walker from the University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute, found that platelets, which are small blood cells essential for blood clotting, release a protein capable of rejuvenating neurons in a manner similar to the effects of physical activity.
The study focused on exerkines, which are biological compounds released into the bloodstream during exercise. Exerkines are thought to be responsible for triggering the brain’s response to exercise. By investigating the effects of these compounds, the researchers were able to shed light on a potential pathway through which exercise positively impacts brain health.
“We know exercise increases production of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain important for learning and memory, but the mechanism hasn’t been clear,” Dr Leiter statad.
“Our previous research has shown platelets are involved, but this study shows platelets are actually required for this effect in the aged mice.”
The findings suggest that the protein released by platelets could mimic the effects of exercise on the brain, providing a possible avenue for developing interventions to enhance brain health and function. This research is particularly relevant for understanding the mechanisms underlying the relationship between physical activity and cognitive well-being, and it may have implications for developing treatments that could benefit individuals who are unable to engage in regular exercise.
“We discovered that the exerkine CXCL4/Platelet factor 4 or PF4, which is released from platelets after exercise, results in regenerative and cognitive improvements when injected into aged mice,” Dr Leiter stated.
Dr Walker said the findings have significant implications for the development of drug interventions.
“For a lot of people with health conditions, mobility issues or of advanced age, exercise isn’t possible, so pharmacological intervention is an important area of research,” she stated.
“We can now target platelets to promote neurogenesis, enhance cognition and counteract age-related cognitive decline.”
The researchers said the next step is to test the response in Alzheimer diseased mice, before moving towards human trials.
“It’s important to note this is not a replacement for exercise,” Dr Walker stated.
“But it could help the very elderly or someone who has had a brain injury or stroke to improve cognition.”
While the study’s results are promising, further research and clinical trials would be needed to fully understand the potential benefits of this blood factor injection and its applicability to human health.
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