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Noggin is Key to Brain Power

Researchers found exercise can stimulate a brain protein called noggin, which helps prevent our intellects from becoming addled.

Sunday Times Article by Jamie McGinnes - published: 11 July 2010

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Scientists have long known that exercise is good for boosting mental capacity (Ben Gurr).

Now we know. Your brain power is linked to how much noggin you have in your noodle.

Researchers have discovered that hard exercise can increase production of a brain protein called noggin — which in turn stimulates the growth of new neurons. It means exercise can protect people against age-related degeneration of the brain.

Scientists have long known that exercise is good for boosting mental capacity but were uncertain how this worked. They suspected, however, that this was linked to neurogenesis, the process by which the brain produces new cells to replace those that die.

Now research, by scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago, suggests that the key factor in this process is noggin, which appears to stimulate stem cells within the brain, prompting them to increase the rate at which they produce new neurons.

The research suggests that noggin works by counteracting the effects of another protein called bone morphogenetic protein, or BMP, which works by suppressing neurogenesis.

In a series of experiments mice allowed to play on running wheels and in mazes had 50% less BMP-related brain activity within a week.

Researchers at the university are hoping to use the discovery to develop a drug that can address memory loss as people age.

It could even be used for early-stage sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Jack Kessler, head of neurology at Northwestern, said: “We have proven in animals that exercise increases memory learning and improves behaviour.”

“There is evidence that the same is true with humans, which is why physicians have for a long time done their best to encourage people to exercise.”

“In adults what happens is the rate at which we make new cells declines and therefore our memory functions decline with age. Exercise counteracts this by increasing the rate at which we make those new cells. We could take a mouse that’s not very good on a maze, give him the noggin protein and make the mouse the equivalent of a mouse genius, running circles around a normal mouse.”

He added: “Noggin is a great name. I wish I could take credit for it but it has nothing to do with me.”

“If we could have a drug which stimulates noggin then we could block the BMP signal and get all the same effects we saw in our study and I think that’s a very, very doable thing.”

Other studies have indicated that there is no risk of overdosing on noggin by over-exercising and that even a short walk can get our brains motoring.

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