Physical activity and gut-brain axis

Mouse during the Barnes Maze Task for measuring cognitive functions
Mouse during the Barnes Maze Task for measuring cognitive functions
Image: Marie-Luise Ederer

Principal Investigator: Christiane Frahm

The research group "Aging and Plasticity" headed by Christiane Frahm is part of the Hans Berger Clinic for Neurology at Jena University HospitalExternal link. The research group investigates mechanisms that play a role in the aging of the brain and studies to what extent these processes can be positively influenced - e.g. by a change in lifestyle: more activity and a change in diet. Since we are particularly interested in the remaining plasticity of the old brain, measures to increase brain plasticity are carried out in old animals or offered to the elderly population. By incorporating animal studies and intervention studies in humans, "bench to bedside" translation is also a focus of our investigations. Recent evidence shows an impact of the gut microbiome on brain plasticity. Therefore, analyses of the microbiome are now part of our studies.

Physical activity not only has a positive effect on brain structure and cognitive abilities in old age, but also affects the intestinal microbiome, which influences the modification of the epigenetic landscape in the brain via the gut-brain axis. Specific intestinal metabolites and minerals act as cofactors for enzymes that regulate epigenetic processes, such as DNA methylation. Within the IMPULS proposal, we plan to conduct voluntary running wheel training of mice initiated at middle age. We will test whether physical activity improves cognitive performance as a function of running performance, alters the composition of the intestinal microbiome and metabolome, and regulates the epigenetic clock, i.e. methylation (5mC) and hydroxymethylation (5hmC). Identification of specific epigenetic modifications and microbiome-associated metabolites involved in this process is of great importance to understand how an active lifestyle or exercise affects improved brain performance in aging. The application of BrainAge will provide additional morphological data based on fMRI scans on the modification of brain aging as a result of running wheel training.

Postdoctoral researcher: Julia Lindner

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