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article imageLink between physical and mental health

By Tim Sandle     Sep 27, 2014 in Health
Researchers have shown how a muscle gene associated with the metabolite kynurenine, which can cross the blood-brain barrier, relieves symptoms of depression in exercising mice.
The research indicates that triggering a gene associated with the muscle, called PGC-1α1, blocks the transport of a specific metabolite. Under conditions where the metabolite enters the brain this appears to cause inflammation in the brain, and, in turn, this is associated with depression.
On this basis, triggering the gene would appear to be a good idea. Studies suggests that this gene is activated through exercise. Thus, the inference is that exercise improves symptoms in some patients with depression.
Knowing that exercise improves mood is well-established. Moreover, many studies have shown that physical exercise can prevent or improve the condition of many diseases. These disease ranging from diabetes and obesity to mood disorders and depression. What scientists have been uncertain about is whether the improvements arise from cardiovascular effects, muscle conditioning, or psychosocial benefits.
The new study pinpoints a genetic basis. For this, The Scientist summarizes, researchers used mice, engineered to express different forms of different genes at high levels. Looking at the identified gene in more detail, scientists subjected transgenic PGC-1α1-expressing mice and control animals to a form of mild stress. This was designed to simulate depression in people. After around a month, the control animals showed behavioral signs of depression (this included failing to exert themselves during a forced swim test). The brains of the mice, when examined post-study, revealed changes to chemicals and neurons. The genetically modified mice (expressing the PGC-1α1 gene), displayed neither behavioral nor physical signs of depression.
The finding presents an opportunity to consider non-drug methods to treat depression, such as encouraging exercise regimes for patients.
The findings have been published in the journal Cell. The paper is titled "Skeletal Muscle PGC-1α1 Modulates Kynurenine Metabolism and Mediates Resilience to Stress-Induced Depression."
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