Intensive Exercise Slows Parkinson’s Progression: New Study Reveals Neuroprotective Effects

Intensive Exercise Shown to Slow Progression of Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers at the Catholic University, Rome Campus, and A. Gemelli IRCCS Polyclinic Foundation have made a groundbreaking discovery about Parkinson’s disease. Their study reveals that intensive exercise can actually slow the progression of the disease, offering new hope for non-pharmacological treatments.

Published in the journal Science Advances, the study titled “Intensive exercise ameliorates motor and cognitive symptoms in experimental Parkinson’s disease by restoring striatal synaptic plasticity” sheds light on the biological mechanisms behind this effect. The research team collaborated with various institutes, including San Raffaele Telematic University Rome, CNR, TIGEM, University of Milan, and IRCCS San Raffaele Rome.

The findings have significant funding support from the Fresco Parkinson Institute, New York University School of Medicine, The Marlene and Paolo Fresco Institute for Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders, as well as the Ministry of Health and MIUR.

Lead author Dr. Gioia Marino, along with researcher Dr. Federica Campanelli, carried out a four-week treadmill training protocol. This replicated previous research indicating that intensive physical activity increases the production of a vital growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which contributes to the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain.

The study showed that the neuroprotective effect of exercise is associated with the survival of dopamine-releasing neurons. These neurons are crucial for maintaining motor control and visuospatial learning, both of which are impaired in Parkinson’s disease. By promoting the survival of these neurons and restoring striatal synaptic plasticity, intensive exercise can ameliorate motor and cognitive symptoms in individuals with Parkinson’s.

One key observation was that daily treadmill training sessions reduced the spread of pathological alpha-synuclein aggregates, which are responsible for the progressive dysfunction of neurons in specific brain areas essential for motor control.

The researchers also found that BDNF interacts with the NMDA receptor for glutamate in the striatum, enabling neurons to respond effectively to stimuli. These effects endure even after the exercise period ends.

The implications of this research are significant. Dr. Paolo Calabresi, Full Professor of Neurology at the Catholic University and Director of the UOC Neurology at the University Polyclinic A. Gemelli IRCCS, explains that this discovery may lead to new non-drug treatments for Parkinson’s that can be used alongside existing therapies.

Building on their findings, the research team is currently involved in a clinical trial to investigate the potential of intensive exercise as a marker for monitoring the progression of Parkinson’s disease and the identification of molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie its positive effects.

In conclusion, this groundbreaking study demonstrates the neuroprotective effects of intensive exercise on Parkinson’s disease and offers hope for the development of new treatment approaches. By understanding the underlying biological mechanisms, researchers are paving the way for non-pharmacological interventions that can improve the quality of life for individuals living with Parkinson’s.