Engaging Cognitive Circuits to Promote Motor Recovery in Degenerative Disorders. Exercise as a Learning Modality

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Michael W. Jakowec, Zhou Wang, Daniel Holschneider, Jeff Beeler, Giselle M. Petzinger

Exercise and physical activity are fundamental components of a lifestyle essential in maintaining a healthy brain. This is primarily due to the fact that the adult brain maintains a high degree of plasticity and activity is essential for homeostasis throughout life. Plasticity is not lost even in the context of a neurodegenerative disorder, but could be maladaptive thus promoting disease onset and progression. A major breakthrough in treating brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease is to drive neuroplasticity in a direction to improve motor and cognitive dysfunction. The purpose of this short review is to present the evidence from our laboratories that supports neuroplasticity as a potential therapeutic target in treating brain disorders. We consider that the enhancement of motor recovery in both animal models of dopamine depletion and in patients with Parkinson’s disease is optimized when cognitive circuits are engaged; in other words, the brain is engaged in a learning modality. Therefore, we propose that to be effective in treating Parkinson’s disease, physical therapy must employ both skill-based exercise (to drive specific circuits) and aerobic exercise (to drive the expression of molecules required to strengthen synaptic connections) components to select those neuronal circuits, such as the corticostriatal pathway, necessary to restore proper motor and cognitive behaviors. In the wide spectrum of different forms of exercise, learning as the fundamental modality likely links interventions used to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease and may be necessary to drive beneficial neuroplasticity resulting in symptomatic improvement and possible disease modification.
DOI: 10.1515/hukin-2015-0192
Key words
physical activity, Parkinson’s disease, cognition, dopamine, neuroplasticity

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