Exercise has been shown to impact brain plasticity and function by involving the action of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); however, mechanisms involved are poorly understood. Two types of BDNF coexist in the brain, the precursor (proBDNF) and its mature product (mBDNF), which preferentially bind specific receptors and exert distinct functions. It is crucial to understand how exercise affects crucial steps in the BDNF processing and signaling to evaluate therapeutic applications. We found that 7 days of voluntary exercise increased both pro and mature BDNF in the rat hippocampus. Exercise also increased the activity of tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA), a serine proteinase shown to facilitate proBDNF cleavage into mBDNF. The blockade of tPA activity reduced the exercise effects on proBDNF and mBDNF. The tPA blocking also inhibited the activation of TrkB receptor, and the TrkB signaling downstream effectors phospho-ERK, phospho-Akt, and phospho-CaMKII. The blocking of tPA also counteracted the effects of exercise on the plasticity markers phospho-synapsin I and growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43). These results indicate that the effects of exercise on hippocampal plasticity are dependent on BDNF processing and subsequent TrkB signaling, with important implications for neuronal function.
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