Introduction: Endogenous brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is thought to be protective against the neurodegeneration seen in Parkinson's disease (PD), and is thought to increase during exercise. This has been proposed as a possible mechanism by which exercise improves outcomes for people with PD. We conducted a pilot study to investigate the role of exercise intensity on BDNF levels in people with PD.
Methods: Participants of early- to mid-stage disease were recruited from a single PD service in north-east England, UK into two separate studies of exercise in PD, one involving moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) and one involving high-intensity interval training (HIIT), both had control groups. In both the interventions, participants exercise three times per week for 12 weeks. Blood samples were taken for BDNF analysis at the start and end of the first session and the start and end of the final session, with corresponding samples taken in controls.
Results: Data were available for 27 participants (13 intervention, 14 control) in the MICT intervention and 17 (9 intervention, 8 control) in the HIIT intervention. BDNF level did not rise significantly from the start to end of individual sessions. Across the 12 week period, they rose significantly in the HIIT intervention group, but not in controls or the MICT intervention group.
Conclusions: High-intensity interval training appears to have a greater impact on BDNF than MICT. Future work should directly compare exercise modalities and investigate the impact of BDNF levels on disease progression and quality of life.
Keywords: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; High-intensity exercise; High-intensity interval training; Parkinson’s disease; Physiotherapy.