Exercise can offset effects of genetic disorder: study

Mental and physical exercise can offset the devastating effects of debilitating genetic disorders caused by the Rett Syndrome.

The Rett syndrome is a degenerative condition that affects girls aged between 6 and 18 months. They undergo a rapid regression in motor, cognitive and social skills that eventually leaves the individual with mental retardation.

Using a mouse model of the Rett syndrome, developed by the Children's Medical Research Institute here, researchers from the Howard Florey Institute found that these mice responded positively to the effects of environmental enrichment.

Anthony Hannan, who led the study, said the onset and severity of coordination problems was reduced by giving the Rett syndrome mice a range of mazes, toys and exercise equipment to stimulate them mentally and physically.

"My laboratory discovered that environmental enrichment significantly improved the ability of the Rett syndrome mice to learn and maintain tasks that required coordinated movements," Hannan said.

They found that a special brain chemical called BDNF, which plays a role in the birth and survival of new neurons, was at similar levels in both normal mice and enriched mice.

Rett syndrome mice that did not receive environmental enrichment had lower levels of BDNF and performed poorly on movement and coordination tasks.

"This discovery shows that gene-environment interactions may be important for all brain diseases, including those caused by an inherited gene mutation," said Hannan.

The findings of the study have been published in the latest issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience.

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