Exercise hormone reduces protein tied to Parkinson’s disease, relieving movement problems in mice

For many years now, doctors have agreed that endurance exercise alleviates Parkinson’s disease symptoms, despite not knowing exactly why. Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston may have finally uncovered the reason.

In a new study, researchers report that both endurance and aerobic exercise stimulate the release of a hormone that decreases levels of a protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease, and relieves related movement complications. Now, scientists are looking into a potential relationship between exercise and a hormone called irisin to deepen their knowledge.

Dr. Ted Dawson, who specializes in neurodegenerative disease research at Hopkins, explains that irisin first became of interest after a 2012 study published by his colleague Bruce Spiegelman. In that study, Spiegelman found that irisin peptides are released into the blood and continue to do so in response to increased endurance activity.

Over the 10 years since, studies show similar findings concluding that more exercise boosts irisin levels. In this study, researchers tested engineered mouse brain cells designed to spread small fibers of alpha synuclein, a protein that regulates moods and movements related to the neurotransmitter dopamine. When the alpha synuclein proteins clump together, their formed mass can act on dopamine-producing cells, ultimately killing them. Study authors say that irisin stopped the accumulation of alpha synuclein clumps, and therefore cell death.

This is a promising finding, as clumps of alpha synuclein are comparable to what’s seen in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, according to Dawson.

“If irisin’s utility pans out, we could envision it being developed into a gene or recombinant protein therapy,” he says in a statement.

“Given that irisin is a naturally produced peptide hormone and seems to have evolved to cross the blood brain-barrier, we think it is worth continuing to evaluate irisin as a potential therapy for Parkinson’s and other forms of neurodegeneration” adds Spiegelman.

Dawson and Spiegelman positively look ahead as research in this area continues to grow, and stronger evidence to support irisin use begins to mount up. They have now filed for patents to use irisin in Parkinson’s disease patients. Spiegelman has created a Boston-based biotechnology company called Aevum Therapeutics Inc. to start translating their irisin research into treatments for other neurodegenerative diseases as well, like Alzheimer’s disease.  

This study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based Registered Dietitian. She is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in Nutrition and Food Science and has published research on food insecurity in Maryland. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition, hormone health, and gastrointestinal health.

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