Scientists have long known that exercise has beneficial effects on our mental functioning, but they didn't understand all of the pathways through which this might happen. Now, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School have identified a new compound produced by the brain during endurance exercise. Known as irisin, it has neuroprotective effects by increasing levels of the growth factor #BDNF. In a new study published in Cell Metabolism, the researchers showed that exercising mice produced more irisin in their brains, which in turn increased BDNF levels. When the scientists artificially increased irisin levels in a mouse's bloodstream, they found that irisin could cross the blood-brain barrier and increase BDNF levels, as well as switch on genes involved in learning and cognition. The ability of irisin to control a major neuroprotective pathway makes it a good compound to study for its potential ability to prevent neurodegeneration.
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Journal article: Exercise Induces Hippocampal BDNF through a PGC-1α/FNDC5 Pathway. Cell Metabolism, October 2013.