Posts Tagged ‘schizophrenia’

Exercise Makes Your Brain Bigger

Sunday, February 21st, 2010
Aerobic Exercise Increases Hippocampal Volume

Aerobic Exercise Increases Hippocampal Volume

In a study that focused specifically on patients suffering from schizophrenia, but also observing changes in non-schizophrenics, scientists have found that aerobic exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus by as much as 16%.

The volume increased by 12% in those with schizophrenia and by 16% in those without and was associated with improvements in short-term memory test scores.
“These results indicate that in [these patients], hippocampal volume is plastic in response to aerobic exercise,” write Frank-Gerald Pajonk, MD, Dr. K. Fontheim’s Hospital for Mental Health, Liedenburg, Germany, and colleagues.

“To provide a context, the magnitude of these changes in volume was similar to that observed for other subcortical structures when patients were switched from typical to atypical antipsychotic drug therapy,” they add.

“To be honest, we’ve been surprised that we found these results,” Dr. Pajonk told Medscape Psychiatry. “We double and tripled checked it, but the results were always confirmed. To our knowledge, this is the first time that it has been shown that the hippocampus is growing in patients with schizophrenia with a suitable method.

“As the hippocampus is one of the core structures in schizophrenia, we were thinking that if there was an increase in volume, it could give some improvement in cognition. And that’s what we found, at least to a small extent,” he added.

We’ve done this same study in other brain structures and did not find any volume increases,” said Dr. Pajonk. “So this really seems to be a result that is specific to the hippocampus. That means it’s not just a question of blood flow or unspecific factors, but maybe it’s really specific for development of neurons in terms of increase in synapses or even neurogenesis.”

He added that it may be too soon to draw any clinical conclusions.

The investigators hope to continue to follow up these patients and are awaiting funding for a new study comparing the effects of exercise with cognitive training.

“Although I can’t prove it right now, I’m positive that exercise is doing good in the treatment of schizophrenia,” said Dr. Pajonk. “Many of the schizophrenia patients from the sporting groups were able to go on and develop a life of their own, moving to a new apartment, taking up a job again, etc. It’s a bit early and we just had a small sample size, but with this small number of patients, we were really surprised and amazed at what has happened to them.”

From Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67:133-143.

Also see:

Schizophrenia Improved By Mental And Physical Exercise

Effects of Physical Exercise & Schizophrenia

Adaptive Plasticity Clue To Schizophrenia

Friday, November 20th, 2009

UCSF scientists have found a gene in fruit flies whose human equivalent may play a critical role in schizophrenia.

The mutated form of the human gene – one of three associated with schizophrenia – mildly disrupts brain cell signaling.

The gene the study honed in on plays a role in “adaptive plasticity,” the process by which connected cells tolerate wide variations in communication signals. If one cell functions abnormally, the surrounding cells work around it, keeping brain function stable overall.

The team screened 276 mutated, or disabled, fly genes to see whether they affected adaptive plasticity — one, called dysbindin, did.

As reported in the November 20, 2009 issue of Science, senior author of the study, Graeme Davis, PhD, Albert Bowers Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF is quoted as saying:

“Mutation of the gene completely prevented the capacity of the neural circuitry to respond to an experimental perturbation, to be adaptive. The dysbindin mutation was one of very few gene mutations that had this effect,” he says. “The gene’s unique function suggests to us that impaired adaptive plasticity may have particular relevance to the cause or progression of schizophrenia.”

Davis theorizes that normal developmental changes in late teens and early twenties pose considerable stress to ongoing, stable neural function. The capacity of the brain to respond to these normal developmental changes – which reveal themselves as functional variations – may be impaired in people who become schizophrenic.

“The next question the researchers will ask,” he says, “is whether absence of the dysbindin gene causes a blockade of adaptive plasticity in mice and whether other genes linked to schizophrenia cause a similar block of adaptive plasticity.”

The study also ruled out any role in adaptive plasticity of various other genes.

“We tested numerous mutations that alter neural function, and most showed perfectly fine adaptive plasticity.” he says, “This suggests that there are distinct roles for genes at the synapse, some support normal neural function while a small subset control adaptive plasticity.”

“It’s become clear that the nervous system is remarkably stable, but not as one might suspect,” says Davis. “It is continuously responsive to a changing environment, which allows us to learn and remember and to respond to environmental change. There probably are many processes that are sensing the environment, continually updating neural function and neural structure in order to keep the brain stable. If we can understand how stability is maintained in the nervous system, perhaps we could understand what happens when stability is lost and disease ensues.”

“These are big questions that reach far beyond our current understanding of brain function,” he says. “This is the power and importance of basic science. By studying fundamental questions, you can discover unexpected phenomenon and also create new perspectives for understanding existing diseases, even if the human genes are known.” The new finding, he says, “may add a new dimension to the conversation about the origins of schizophrenia.”

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

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