The results of the study by Anna Cook, "Activation of TrkB-Akt signalling reverses impairments in a mouse model of SCA6," were posted in Science Advances.
Motor coordination is hampered by the genetic neurological condition known as Spinal Cerebellar Ataxia 6 (SCA6). SCA6 has received little attention from medical experts because it only affects one in 100,000 persons. Only a few therapeutic options are available, and there is currently no recognised cure.
Recently, a group of McGill University scientists with expertise in SCA6 and other types of ataxia released discoveries that may pave the way for the development of medicines for other movement disorders in addition to providing hope for SCA6 patients, in-a-pill exercise. The McGill research, led by biology professor Alanna Watt, discovered that exercise improved the health of cells in the cerebellum, the area of the brain associated with SCA6 and other ataxias, in mice with the disease.
“That’s not something we really knew about SCA6,” said lead author Anna Cook, a Ph.D. candidate in Professor Watt’s lab. “If there are these early changes in the brain that people don’t even know about, it tends to advocate for more genetic screening and early intervention for these rare diseases.”
The researchers discovered that exercise raised levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a naturally occurring compound in the brain that supports the growth and development of nerve cells, which was the cause of the improvement. Importantly, the study showed that a medicine that mirrored the activity of BDNF could work just as well as exercise, if not better, for patients with movement disorders for whom exercise may not always be practical.
Additionally, the researchers found that the SCA6 mice’s BDNF levels started to fall off long before any movement problems appeared. They discovered that the medication only stopped the deterioration if it was administered prior to the appearance of external symptoms.