Common reasons for exercising are to lose weight, to train for a sporting event, to improve mood, or just for fun. What if people exercise to grow more brain cells?
Neurogenesis- the growth of new brain cells- is taking an exciting turn in brain research today. One of the main areas of the brain where neurogenesis occurs is the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, a brain region that is primarily associated with memory. The discovery of hippocampal neurogenesis in the adult brain holds the promise of new therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Hannah Kwak’s research is focused on investigating whether voluntary exercise (e.g. running) facilitates hippocampal neurogenesis in immunodeficient mice. These animals lack T cells, which have been found to be essential in modulating learning, memory, and neurogenesis. Just as exercise helps to grow muscle cells, it is plausible that it also helps to facilitate the generation of more brain cells. To study the influence of exercise on hippocampal neurogenesis, Hannah is comparing two sets of T-cell-deficient mice. One set will run in wheels for 8 hours daily, while the other set will not. She will later use maze tests to assess the spatial memory of both sets of mice.
I find this project really interesting because it reinforces the importance of exercise in boosting overall health. The project also emphasizes the interactions between the nervous and immune systems, the main focus of my own research.