Exercise primes a molecular memory for brain-derived neurotrophic factor protein induction in the rat hippocampus

Neuroscience. 2005;133(3):853-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.03.026.


Exercise is an important facet of behavior that enhances brain health and function. Increased expression of the plasticity molecule brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) as a response to exercise may be a central factor in exercise-derived benefits to brain function. In rodents, daily wheel-running exercise increases BDNF gene and protein levels in the hippocampus. However, in humans, exercise patterns are generally less rigorous, and rarely follow a daily consistency. The benefit to the brain of intermittent exercise is unknown, and the duration that exercise benefits endure after exercise has ended is unexplored. In this study, BDNF protein expression was used as an index of the hippocampal response to exercise. Both daily exercise and alternating days of exercise increased BDNF protein, and levels progressively increased with longer running duration, even after 3 months of daily exercise. Exercise on alternating days was as effective as daily exercise, even though exercise took place only on half as many days as in the daily regimen. In addition, BDNF protein remained elevated for several days after exercise ceased. Further, after prior exercise experience, a brief second exercise re-exposure insufficient to cause a BDNF change in naïve animals, rapidly reinduced BDNF protein to levels normally requiring several weeks of exercise for induction. The protein reinduction occurred with an intervening "rest" period as long as 2 weeks. The rapid reinduction of BDNF by an exercise stimulation protocol that is normally subthreshold in naïve animals suggests that exercise primes a molecular memory for BDNF induction. These findings are clinically important because they provide guidelines for optimizing the design of exercise and rehabilitation programs, in order to promote hippocampal function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / physiology*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor