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Cognitive Benefits of Exercise Without Moving a Finger?

A particular blood factor through an injection has the potential to mimic the cognitive advantages derived from exercise.

A discovery made by University of Queensland scientists suggests that a particular blood factor, when injected, may imitate the brain-boosting effects of exercise. The research, led by Dr. Odette Leiter and Dr. Tara Walker from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute, found that platelets, crucial for clotting, release a protein that revitalizes neurons in older mice akin to the benefits of physical activity. This breakthrough offers potential treatments for cognitive decline associated with aging.

“Understanding that exercise boosts the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a crucial brain region for memory and learning, has been established, but the exact mechanism remained elusive. Our earlier investigations indicated platelets’ involvement, and this study substantiates that platelets are indeed essential for this effect in aging mice,”.

Dr. Leiter

Exerkines and Brain Health

Researchers delved into exerkines, these biological elements discharged into the bloodstream during physical activity, thought to trigger the brain’s response to exercise.

“The exerkine CXCL4/Platelet factor 4 (PF4), released from platelets post-exercise, was found to prompt rejuvenation and cognitive enhancements when administered to older mice,”

Dr. Leiter.

Dr. Walker highlighted the discoveries’ profound implications for drug interventions.

“For many individuals coping with health conditions, mobility limitations, or advanced age, exercising might not be feasible. Hence, exploring pharmaceutical solutions becomes crucial. Now, by targeting platelets, we can stimulate neurogenesis, improve cognitive function, and combat the decline in cognitive abilities associated with aging.

Dr. Walker

Alzheimer’s Research and Human Trials

The research team is planning to evaluate the reaction in mice with Alzheimer’s disease as the next phase, with the goal of eventually progressing to human trials.

“It’s crucial to emphasize that this isn’t a substitute for exercise. However, it could potentially aid the elderly or individuals recovering from a brain injury or stroke to enhance cognitive abilities.”

Dr. Walker


The beneficial effects of physical activity on brain ageing are well recognised, with exerkines, factors that are secreted into the circulation in response to exercise, emerging as likely mediators of this response. However, the source and identity of these exerkines remain unclear. Here we provide evidence that an anti-geronic exerkine is secreted by platelets. We show that platelets are activated by exercise and are required for the exercise-induced increase in hippocampal precursor cell proliferation in aged mice. We also demonstrate that increasing the systemic levels of the platelet-derived exerkine CXCL4/platelet factor 4 (PF4) ameliorates age-related regenerative and cognitive impairments in a hippocampal neurogenesis-dependent manner. Together these findings highlight the role of platelets in mediating the rejuvenating effects of exercise during physiological brain ageing.

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