Physical exercise combined with cognitive training helps reduce the effects of brain aging (and in particular its performance), first of all memory. A new study, as part of the Train the Brain project, was carried out with the support of the Pisa Foundation and coordinated by Lamberto Maffei, who was director of the Neuroscience Institute of the National Research Council (Cnr-In) of Pisa, an active reality in the Pisan territory and in almost ten years it has involved hundreds of elderly people. Cnr researchers have identified how the reduction of the inflammatory molecule Ccl11 increases the benefits produced by physical and mental training on brain aging. The project thus constituted a permanent laboratory and a stimulus for understanding the molecular mechanisms that translate physical and mental training into better brain function of the elderly.
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The research group
In particular, to study these mechanisms, a research group coordinated by Marco Mainardi of Cnr-In and Margherita Maffei of the Institute of Clinical Physiology (Cnr-Ifc), has extended its investigation to the blood of the subjects included in Train the Brain, highlighting some particularities. The study, whose first authors are Gaia Scabia of Cnr-Ifc and the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine of the University of Pisa and Giovanna Testa of the Biology Laboratory of the Scuola Normale Superiore, was published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. “We noticed that the levels of the inflammatory molecule Ccl11, also known as Eotaxin-1, were lower in the blood of the participants in the project than those measured before the start of the training program,” explains Mainardi.
The role of the molecule
“To understand if this reduction was a consequence of physical and mental exercise we used the mouse model, following a protocol, called ‘environmental enrichment’, of voluntary physical exercise, cognitive stimulation and social interaction, which reproduces Train the Brain”. Mainardi further explains that “enriched animal models, normally better at carrying out a spatial memory test than those raised in standard conditions, lose their advantage if the levels of Ccl11 are artificially kept elevated. Conversely, the neutralization of this molecule in subjects raised in standard conditions leads to an improvement in their cognitive capacity which makes them similar to enriched ones ».
The experiments performed
“These experiments show how the reduction in the blood level of the inflammatory molecule Ccl11 constitutes a key mechanism in the improvement of learning and memory performance induced by physical and cognitive training” underlines Margherita Maffei, highlighting that the results “pave the way for possible therapeutic strategies to alleviate the effects of memory loss due to neurodegenerative diseases, first of all Alzheimer’s disease, through a targeted action on Ccl11 ». Finally, the researcher reports that the group “is currently looking for new funding to continue the project and thus be able to clarify, among other things, which brain cells are the target of the action of Ccl11”.