There is good evidence for physical activity to improve cognitive function, particularly memory, both in the short term following a bout of exercise and over the long term as a result of regular exercise. Researchers here take the approach of measuring biomarkers known to be linked to cognitive function, and find that, as expected and shown elsewhere, they are improved by a program of structured exercise in older people.
Researchers tested the hypotheses that three specific biomarkers, which are implicated in learning and memory, would increase in older adults following exercise training and correlate with cognition and metabolomics markers of brain health. They examined myokine Cathepsin B (CTSB), brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and klotho, as well as metabolomics, which have become increasingly utilized to understand biochemical pathways that may be affected by Alzheimer's disease (AD).
CTSB, a lysosomal enzyme, is secreted from muscle into circulation after exercise and is associated with memory function and adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Older adults with cognitive impairment have lower serum and brain CTSB levels. BDNF is a protein that is upregulated in the rodent hippocampus and cortex by running and is important for adult neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and memory function. Klotho is a circulating protein that can enhance cognition and synaptic function and is associated with resilience to neurodegenerative disease, possibly by supporting brain structures responsible for memory and learning.
Researchers performed a metabolomics analysis in blood samples of 23 asymptomatic late middle-aged adults, with familial and genetic risk for AD (mean age 65 years old, 50 percent female) who participated in the "aeRobic Exercise And Cognitive Health (REACH) Pilot Study". The participants were divided into two groups: usual physical activity (UPA) and enhanced physical activity (EPA). The EPA group underwent 26 weeks of supervised treadmill training. Blood samples for both groups were taken at baseline and after 26 weeks.
Results showed that plasma CTSB levels were increased following this 26-week structured aerobic exercise training. Verbal learning and memory correlated positively with change in CTSB but was not related to BDNF or klotho. The present correlation between CTSB and verbal learning and memory suggests that CTSB may be useful as a marker for cognitive changes relevant to hippocampal function after exercise in a population at risk for dementia. Plasma BDNF levels decreased in conjunction with metabolomic changes, including reductions in ceramides, sphingolipids, and phospholipids, as well as changes in gut microbiome metabolites and redox homeostasis. Indeed, multiple lipid metabolites relevant to AD were modified by exercise in a manner that may be neuroprotective. Serum klotho was unchanged but was associated with cardiorespiratory fitness.