Exercise Boosts Motor Skill Learning in Mice by Triggering Neurotransmitter Switch in the Brain

May 11, 2020 | Biotechnology

Reading time: 5 minutes

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Scientists at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have identified changes in how neurons in the brain behave that may explain the neurological basis by which physical exercise can improve our ability to learn new motor skills. Studies in mice by Hui-Quan Li, PhD, and Nicholas C Spitzer found that one week of voluntary wheel running induced a specific population of neurons in the animals’ brains to switch neurotransmitter expression from acetylcholine (ACh), to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and that this switch helped to boost their ability to learn a series of motor skills. Blocking this neurotransmitter switch inhibited the beneficial effects of running on the animals’ ability to learn the new skills.

“This study provides new insight into how we get good at things that require motor skills and provides information about how these skills are actually learned,” said Spitzer, the Atkinson Family Chair in the Biological Sciences Section of Neurobiology and a director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind. The newly identified association between neurotransmitter switching and the beneficial effects of sustained running on motor skill learning could offer up a new target for treating movement disorders, the researchers suggest. “With an understanding of this mechanism comes the opportunity to manipulate and to harness it for further beneficial purposes,” Spitzer added. “In the injured or diseased individual, it could be a way of turning things around… to give the nervous system a further boost.”

Spitzer and Li report their findings in Nature Communications, in a paper titled, “Exercise enhances motor skill learning by neurotransmitter switching in the adult midbrain.”

It’s well recognized that regular aerobic exercise, such as running, has wide-ranging health benefits on energy, mood, sleep and motor skills, but what scienti... You can view the entire article in the GEN – Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News Blog.

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