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New Reason To Hit The Gym: Fighting Memory Loss

August 31, 2017

Research has shown that people who exercise do better on memory tests. Now a new Columbia University Medical Center study explains specifically what exercise does within the brain. Exercise, the researchers found, targets a region of the brain within the hippocampus, known as the dentate gyrus, which underlies normal age-related memory decline that begins around age 30 for most adults.

This finding is significant because it was accomplished via the first-ever observation of neurogenesis, the growth of neurons, within a living brain. Using an MRI imaging technique developed at Columbia, the researchers were able to identify neurogenesis within the dentate gyrus region following exercise. Previously, researchers were only able to prove neurogenesis upon postmortem exam in animal studies.

"No previous research has systematically examined the different regions of the hippocampus and identified which region is most affected by exercise," said Scott A. Small, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center and the study's lead author. "I, like many physicians, already encourage my patients to get active and this adds yet another reason to the long list of reasons why exercise is good for overall health."

Published in the March 12-16, 2007 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the finding builds upon previous research at Columbia that identified the role of the dentate gyrus region of the hippocampus in normal age-related memory decline. Additionally, Fred "Rusty" Gage, Ph.D. of the Salk Institute, a lead co-investigator on this study, had demonstrated in mice that the dentate gyrus is the one area of the brain where new neurons are generated, and that exercise improves this process. This is the first human study to emerge out of this observation.

"Our next step is to identify the exercise regimen that is most beneficial to improve cognition and reduce normal memory loss, so that physicians may be able to prescribe specific types of exercise to improve memory," said Dr. Small, who is also a research scholar at the Columbia University Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain.

Additional Columbia researchers who contributed to this study include: Ana C. Pereira, Rene Hen, Dan E. Huddleston, Adam M. Brickman, Alexander A. Sosunov, Guy M. McKhann, Truman R. Brown and Richard Sloan.

The Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center is a multidisciplinary group that has forged links between researchers and clinicians to uncover the causes of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other age-related brain diseases and discover ways to prevent and cure these diseases. It has partnered with the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Medical Center which was established by an endowment in 1977 to focus on diseases of the nervous system. The Center integrates traditional epidemiology with genetic analysis and clinical investigation to explore all phases of diseases of the nervous system. For more information about these centers visit: cumclumbia.edu/dept/taub/, cumclumbia.edu/dept/sergievsky/.

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, nurses, dentists, and public health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. cumclumbia.edu/.

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