Exercise prevents Parkinson's symptoms in lab model mimicking human form of the disease

Exercise might one day provide a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical way to protect adults against the onset of symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD). These findings, by investigators at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, are published in a current, special issue of Molecular Brain Research, called "Molecular Aspects of Parkinson's Disease."

PD affects more than 2 percent of the world's adult population, including 1 million adults in the United States. In addition, experts agree that in most cases, PD is caused by long-term exposure to toxins in the environment. PD is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by loss of dopamine-containing nerves in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra (SN). Common symptoms of PD include tremors, muscular stiffness and other movement problems. Dopamine is a signaling molecule released by nerves in the SN and is critical to the brain's ability to control movement.

The St. Jude study showed that sustained exercise for at least three months prevented cell death in the SN of adult mice that otherwise occurs following injection of a toxin called MPTP. Once in the SN, MPTP is converted into a highly reactive molecule called MPP+, which triggers the production of molecules called free radicals. The free radicals, in turn, damage the brain cells. The key to the protective effect of exercise was the increased production of a protein called glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), which helps maintain the health of nerves and protects them against MPP+. Glia are special supportive cells in the brain that help to maintain nerve health.

The researchers used MPTP to produce PD symptoms in adult mice because this toxin is known to cause identical results in people who have abused so-called "designer drugs" that contain this toxin as a contaminant. The finding that exercise protects the SN in mice from damage caused by MPP+ suggests that exercise might also protect humans from the same type of d

Contact: Bonnie Cameron
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

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