Changes in markers of brain serotonin activity in response to chronic exercise in senior men

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 Nov;39(11):1250-6. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2014-0092. Epub 2014 Jun 23.


Aging is associated with noticeable impairments in brain serotonin transmission, which might contribute to increased vulnerability to developing depression in later life. Animal and human studies have shown that aerobic exercise can stimulate brain serotonin activity and trigger parallel elevations in tryptophan (TRP, the serotonin precursor) availability in blood plasma. However, the influence of chronic exercise on serotonergic activity in older adults is not yet known. Sixteen men aged 64 ± 3 years exercised for 1 h (67%-70% peak oxygen consumption) at baseline and following 16 weeks of aerobic training. The main outcome measures were cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), TRP, prolactin, lactate, and free fatty acids (FFA). Changes in plasma free-TRP/BCAA and prolactin served as surrogates for TRP availability and serotonin activity, respectively. Chronic exercise decreased body mass (P < 0.05) whilst it increased ventilatory threshold 2 (P < 0.01). Although training did not affect plasma TRP availability to the brain at rest, both pre- and post-training exercise challenges markedly increased TRP availability (P < 0.001). The free-TRP/BCAA values reached a ceiling during exercise that was lower following training (P < 0.05), whereas similar patterns were found for prolactin, lactate, and FFA. These data show that aerobic exercise elicits consistent transient elevations in plasma TRP availability to the brain in older men; the elevations were independent from physical training, although less pronounced following training. The data support the contention that repeated elevations in brain serotonin activity might be involved in the antidepressant effect of exercise training in older adults.

Keywords: 5-HT activity; 5-hydroxytryptamine; acides aminés; activité 5-HTergique; activité physique; aging; amino acids; antidepressive; antidépressant; elderly; entraînement en endurance; entraînement physique; humain; human; neurotransmetteur; neurotransmitter; physical activity; physical training; âge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Body Composition
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers
  • Serotonin