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A Common Genetic Variant Regulates the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise.20-10-2016

A new study conducted by the University of Milan and the Weill Cornell Medical College reveals a genetic variant that reduces the neurobiological benefits induced by physical exercise in mice.

Physical exercise has several beneficial effects on human wellbeing, including anxiolytic and antidepressant effects. However, there are individual differences in response to regular physical exercise.

A new study, recently published in Neuropsychopharmacology, suggests that these individual variabilities may be accounted for by specific genetic variants.

Researchers from the University of Milan, in collaboration with the Weill Cornell Medical College, NY, reported that physical exercise failed to promote anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects in mice genetically engineered to express a human genetic variation in the gene for the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

BDNF is a neurotrophin highly expressed in the adult brain modulating neuronal plasticity. A human genetic variant of BDNF, named Val66Met, is carried by approximately 30% of individuals; and some previous studies have shown that this variant is associated with size reduction of specific brain regions and an increased susceptibility to develop neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

Behavioral analyses on some groups of mice, showed that physical exercise-induced anxiolytic-and antidepressant-like response was compromised in mutant mice carrying the BDNF genetic variant.

The researchers also performed some molecular analyses finding that, after physical exercise, the levels of BDNF were increased in the hippocampus, a region important for memory and mood regulation, only in wild-type mice but not in mice carrying the BDNF genetic variant.


For information
The University of Milan
Department of Pharmacological and Biomolecular Sciences
Prof. Maurizio Popoli
Tel. 02 503 18351-18361

Dr. Alessandro Ieraci