Reduction of Movement in Neurological Diseases: Effects on Neural Stem Cells Characteristics

More evidence that movement and exercise are fundamental to the health of the body, and also to the brain and nervous system.

As a neurological physiotherapist working in the community, I have witnessed on many occasions the rapid decline which occurs in a variety of neurological conditions once a person becomes unable to walk.

A recent study done on mice provides evidence of a possible mechanism for this deterioration. For a period of 28 days, a group of mice were restricted from using their back legs (their front legs were not restricted), and their brains were compared to a control group who had no restriction. The findings are intriguing: the mice with restricted rear legs showed a 70% reduction in the number of neural stem cells [NSCs], as well as incomplete development of neurons and oligodendrocytes.

This research suggests that weight bearing  physical activity of the lower limbs is essential for the production and maintenance of healthy neural cells; on a cellular level, it was noted that limiting the weight bearing movement lowered the overall amount of oxygen in the body, altering metabolism. It also had a negative effect on the gene responsible for the health of mitochondria, thus affecting the biochemical process of energy production.

The authors state, “The overall results support the existence of a link between reduction of exercise and muscle disuse and metabolism in the brain and thus represent valuable new information that could clarify how circumstances such as the absence of load and the lack of movement that occurs in people with some neurological diseases, may affect the properties of NSCs and contribute to the negative manifestations of these conditions.”

OK, so now we have a clue as to the Why and the How of this decline; but the challenge to all community physiotherapists, including myself, is:

How can we help mitigate this deterioration?

For ideas on some solutions to this, please see the series of Physiopedia pages in the Physical Activity Category.