Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Are Runners Dopamine Machines?

We've all heard how exercise can prevent heart disease and maintain brain plasticity.  More good news regarding the positive effect of exercise, this time running, was presented recently at the Society for Neuroscience's 2009 meeting. Neuroscientist
Judy Cameron of the University of Pittsburgh showed exercise may have a protective effect against Parkinson's disease.

Cameron's study was conducted on rhesus monkeys.  A group of monkeys were divided to follow three different exercise plans for three months.  The first group really just sat around and watched others exercise.  The second group jogged for thirty minutes daily and the third group ran, on a treadmill, at a speed that brought  heart rates up to 80% capacity. After the 3 months,MPTP, a neurotoxin that inhibits dopamine production, was injected into the brains of all monkeys.  This neurotoxin is the same one present in the brains of humans suffering Parkinson's disease.

The results were astounding.  The monkeys that ran suffered no ill effects from the injected neurotoxin, while the sedentary monkeys lost motor function of their left arms.  The jogging monkeys did better than the sitting ones, but by far, the runners remained the healthiest.

My questions are:
1. Will Cameron be able to rehabilitate the sedentary rhesus monkeys by putting them on a strict running program or is their motor function impaired permanently?  
2. Would persons experiencing the early symptoms of Parkinson's benefit from joining a local running club and a training for a marathon? Or at what point is exercise no longer helpful?

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