Exercise plasma boosts memory and dampens brain inflammation via clusterin

December 11, 2021

NOMIS Awardee Tony Wyss-Coray and colleagues have shown that blood from young adult mice that are getting lots of exercise benefits the brains of same-aged, sedentary mice. A single protein in the blood of exercising mice seems largely responsible for that benefit. Their findings were published in Nature.

The discovery could open the door to treatments that — by taming brain inflammation in people who don’t get much exercise — lower their risk of neurodegenerative disease or slow its progression.

In the study, published Dec. 8 in Nature, the Stanford researchers compared blood samples from exercising and sedentary mice of the same age. They showed that transfusions of blood from running mice reduced neuroinflammation in the sedentary mice and improved their cognitive performance. In addition, the researchers isolated a blood-borne protein that appears to play an important role in the anti-neuroinflammatory exercise effect.

Inflammation and cognitive health

Neuroinflammation has been strongly tied to neurodegenerative diseases in humans, said Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences. Animal studies have indicated that neuroinflammation precipitates neurodegenerative disorders and that reversing or reducing neuroinflammation can prolong cognitive health, he said.

Anybody who’s suffered from influenza can relate to the loss of cognitive function that comes from a fever-inducing viral infection, Wyss-Coray said: “You get lethargic, you feel disconnected, your brain doesn’t work so well, you don’t remember as clearly.”

That’s a result, at least in part, of the bodywide inflammation that follows the infection. As your immune system ramps up its fight, the inflammation spills over into your brain. Neuroinflammation also exacerbates the progression of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, said Wyss-Coray, a neuro-immunologist who in a study published earlier this year identified signs of brain inflammation in people who had died of COVID-19.

Wyss-Coray is the new study’s senior author. The lead author is Zurine De Miguel, PhD, a former postdoctoral scholar in Wyss-Coray’s group who is now an assistant professor of psychology at California State University, Monterey Bay.

It’s already known that exercise induces a number of healthy manifestations in the brain, such as more nerve-cell production and less inflammation.

“We’ve discovered that this exercise effect can be attributed to a large extent to factors in the blood, and we can transfer that effect to a same-aged, non-exercising individual,” said Wyss-Coray, the D. H. Chen Professor II.

Continue reading this Stanford Medicine release

Read the Nature publication: Exercise plasma boosts memory and dampens brain inflammation via clusterin