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Watch UCSD mice exercise, stimulate brain motor skill learning

Runners at the start line of the 2015 Carlsbad 5000. Photo by Chris Stone

Researchers at UC San Diego released findings on Monday that point to a link between regular exercise and the brain’s ability to learn new motor skills.

Hui-quan Li and Nick Spitzer of UCSD have identified key neurological changes after sustained exercise. By comparing the brains of mice that exercised with those that did not, Li and Spitzer found that specific neurons switched their chemical signals, called neurotransmitters, after exercise, resulting in better learning for the brain. acquisition of motor skills.

“This study provides new insight into how good we get at things that require motor skills and provides insights into how those skills are actually learned,” said Spitzer, chair of the biological sciences section of neurobiology at the UCSD and director of the Kavli Institute for the Brain and Mind. .

The results of the study are published in The Monday show natural communications.

A group of neurons in the midbrain expressing acetylcholine (blue) are induced to express another type of neurotransmitter, glutamate (yellow). Picture via UCSD

Spitzer’s lab discovered neurotransmitter switching in the adult mammalian brain and conducted research on the ability of neurons to alter their transmitter identity in response to sustained stimuli, typically resulting in behavioral changes. After conducting research describing neurotransmitter switching in depression, Spitzer and his colleagues began to investigate how such switching might be involved in healthy conditions.

Li says the findings underscore the importance of exercise, even at home during the current pandemic quarantine situation.

“This study shows that adding more plasticity is good for the brain,” Li said. form of plasticity for the benefit of the brain. For example, if you hope to learn and practice stimulating sports like surfing or rock climbing when we are no longer sheltered at home, it may be good to run regularly on a treadmill or maintain a yoga practice at home now.

Li and Spitzer compared mice that completed a week of exercise on running wheels with mice that did not have access to running wheels. They found that the exercised group learned several demanding motor skills such as staying on a rotating rod or traversing a balance beam faster than the untrained group.

When the brains of running mice were examined, a group of neurons in the brain region known as the caudal pedunculopontine nucleus – which regulates motor coordination – were found to have changed neurotransmitters.

To confirm their findings, the researchers used molecular tools to block the newly identified transmitter switch resulting from exercise. They found that the improvement in motor skill learning in these mice was prevented.

They say the finding could lead to other discoveries where switching neurotransmitters leads to key changes in motor skills. The researchers said they would like to test ideas such as the ability to deliberately alter neurotransmitters to benefit motor skills, even without exercise. They also plan to conduct research to determine whether exercise similarly triggers the benefits of motor skill learning in people with neurological disorders.

— City News Service

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