Harnessing exercise epigenomics to protect the brain from neurodegeneration

Lay Summary 
Can exercise help heal the brain and protect it from degeneration? This is a critical question that not only applies to people who have a neurodegenerative condition like multiple sclerosis (MS) but anyone who wishes to maintain a healthy brain as they age. We think that participation in aerobic exercise can alter the immune system and shift the balance from a state of inflammation towards one that fosters brain repair. We can measure levels of inflammation and markers of brain repair, such as neurotrophins (Neurotrophins are a family of proteins that induce the survival, development, and function of neurons), in the blood. We detect changes to brain networks using a special device called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which provides a window on brain function and integrity. The chemical switch that makes the link between inflammation and restoration is likely a special molecule called a 'microRNA'. MicroRNAs help cross talk between the brain and the immune system. This field of 'exercise epigenomics' is new and could have important implications for MS as well as other diseases that involve neurodegeneration. Beginning in 2016, we created a unique longitudinal MS patient registry and biorepository which includes detailed demographic, clinical, immune, and exercise/rehabilitation profiles. Of the 220+ people recruited, we have complete data on 84 that are eligible for this project (have mild MS). We intend to gather three years of data on at least 100 people. In this project we will investigate potential links between aerobic fitness/physical activity and the balance of inflammation and brain repair on preservation of brain function, and sensorimotor and cognitive deficits in people with mild MS. People with MS, like anyone else, want to live long and productive lives. Using this unique and powerful dataset we will be able to probe the links between lifestyle and brain health like never before. 


Faculty of Medicine
Newfoundland and Labrador
Clinical Research
Industry Sectors 
Health Care and Social Assistance
Start date 
1 Mar 2020
End date 
28 Feb 2021