Differential effects of voluntary and forced exercise on stress responses after traumatic brain injury

J Neurotrauma. 2012 May 1;29(7):1426-33. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.2229. Epub 2012 Apr 17.


Voluntary exercise increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) after traumatic brain injury (TBI) when it occurs during a delayed time window. In contrast, acute post-TBI exercise does not increase BDNF. It is well known that increases in glucocorticoids suppress levels of BDNF. Moreover, recent work from our laboratory showed that there is a heightened stress response after fluid percussion injury (FPI). In order to determine if a heightened stress response is also observed with acute exercise, at post-injury days 0-4 and 7-11, corticosterone (CORT) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) release were measured in rats running voluntarily or exposed to two daily 20-min periods of forced running wheel exercise. Forced, but not voluntary exercise, continuously elevated CORT. ACTH levels were initially elevated with forced exercise, but decreased by post-injury day 7 in the control, but not the FPI animals. As previously reported, voluntary exercise did not increase BDNF in the FPI group as it did in the control animals. Forced exercise did not increase levels of BDNF in any group. It did, however, decrease hippocampal glucocorticoid receptors in the control group. The results suggest that exercise regimens with strong stress responses may not be beneficial during the early post-injury period.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / biosynthesis
  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / biosynthesis
  • Corticosterone / biosynthesis
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Male
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Running / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Volition / physiology*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticosterone