Buff moms make for healthy babies. Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to have numerous benefits for mother and child alike, and now new research suggests that exercising during pregnancy could even protect your child from developing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease, later in life.
To examine the effects of exercise on offspring brain health, a team of researchers led by University Hospital Essen's Kathy Keyvani mated male mice that were genetically predisposed to developing Alzheimer's with healthy females to give rise to Alzheimer-diseased offspring.
Five months after being born, the offspring's brains were examined for signs of Alzheimer's disease like Beta-amyloid plaques (protein deposits found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients) and the presence of plasticity-related molecules. (In neuroscience, "plasticity" refers to the brain's ability to break and form new synaptic connections during processes like learning and memory formation. More plasticity-related molecules are associated with more and better connections between neurons, and are regarded as a good indicator of overall brain health.)
The researchers found that offpspring born to mothers who had been provided with an exercise wheel during pregnancy showed fewer neurodegenerative symptoms, including fewer (and smaller) Beta-amyloid plaques; diminished inflamation; less oxidative stress; and an increased number of plasticity-related molecules.
According to Keyvani, the team's results provide a link between the benefits experienced by a pregnant mother and the disease status of an as yet-unborn child. Keyvani explains:
Epigenetic alterations (alterations in gene and protein expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence) provide a most probable mechanism by which mothers could have transferred their own behavioral experience to their progeny.
A better understanding of the underlying pathways may provide novel treatment and/or prevention strategies for Alzheimer's disease and bring more insight into the fascinating link between brain and behavior.