BMP + Exercise + Noggin = Neurogenesis

Two terms you need to know for this section: BMP (Bone-Morphogenetic Proteins) can be bad guys — a high level of BMP is a major factor in cancer; and Noggin, a brain protein that fights BMP. The more Noggin you have, the better. We discussed neurogenesis earlier — the growth of new brain cells. BMPs can also be good guys, necessary for the formation of bone and cartilage, but too much or even too little seems to cause problems.

Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times published an article on July 7, 2010:

“In the late 1990s, Dr. Fred Gage and colleagues at the Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute in San Diego elegantly proved that human and animal brains are able to produce new brain cells and showed that exercise increases neurogenesis.”

In a more recent study Dr. Jack Kessler, chairman of neurology at Northwestern University, and others on his staff found that exercise has a major impact on BMP, reducing its effect on the brain. BMP has a negative impact on the growth of stem cells, the precursors for new brain cells. We need stem cells. The more active BMP is in our brain, the slower and less responsive we become as we age.

The good news is that exercise counters some of the effects of BMP. Dr. Kessler and his staff found that mice that exercised on running wheels had fifty percent less BMP within a week. The other good news is that the active mice were found to have an increase in Noggin, the BMP antagonist that improves the amount of stem cell division and neurogenesis.

Dr. Kessler said, “If ever exercise enthusiasts wanted a rationale for what they’re doing, this should be it. Exercise, through a complex interplay with Noggin and BMP, helps to ensure that neuronal stem cells stay lively and new brain cells are born.

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