Exercise Might Protect Against Parkinson's Disease
Protects brain cells against damage, researchers say
MONDAY, Oct. 25 (HealthDayNews) -- In research with rats, University of Pittsburgh scientists found that exercising limbs helps protect brain cells that are normally damaged or destroyed by Parkinson's disease.
Based on that finding, the researchers have started a small pilot study to examine if exercise has an impact on the progression of Parkinson's in people who have the disease.
In people with Parkinson's, brain cells that contain dopamine progressively die until only a small percentage of such cells remain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that's essential in muscle control. The loss of dopamine results in typical symptoms of Parkinson's: stooped posture, limb rigidity, slow movements and uncontrollable tremors.
In this study, rats were forced to exercise for seven days before they were give a toxin designed to induce Parkinson's disease. Another group of rats that did no exercise also received the toxin.
In the rats that were exercised, there was significantly less death of dopamine-containing brain cells than in the rats that hadn't been exercised.
"Whereas a number of explanations could be offered as to why the exercised animals do so well, we have evidence that indicates it's because exercise stimulates production of key proteins that are important for survival of neurons," study senior author Michael J. Zigmond, a professor of neurology, neurobiology and psychiatry, said in a prepared statement.
These proteins, called neurotrophic factors, protect neurons and promote their survival. The study authors said exercise increases by 40 percent the production of one particular neurotrophic factor called glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF).
"GDNF, and probably other factors as well, may help offset the cell's vulnerability to the effects of oxidative stress from free radical molecules that are produced by the toxin we use in our rat model," Zigmond said.
The study was presented Oct. 24 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Francisco.
The Parkinson's Disease Foundation has more about Parkinson's disease.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, news release, Oct. 24, 2004
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