Exercise during pregnancy promotes brain cell formation in baby mice
Exercise in expectant mothers promotes brain maturation in the offspring – at least in mice. That's what scientists at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin discovered when they studied nerve cell formation in newborn mice.
It has been known for a long time that both mental and physical activity promotes the formation of new nerve cells in the brain, with this neurogenesis taking place primarily in the hippocampus. Anika Bick-Sander and her colleagues from Gerd Kempermann's working group have now investigated whether this effect also affects the offspring. To do this, they gave pregnant female mice the opportunity to let off steam in running wheels, while the control group had to make do with standard cages with no opportunities for activity.
During pregnancy, the physical activity of the mothers initially seemed to slow down the development of the young: the newborns were slightly underweight and had a smaller hippocampus. But after a week, increased nerve cell growth began in the hippocampus of the animals; after one month, mice from active mothers had forty percent more brain cells than offspring from sluggish females.
The researchers suspect that certain growth factors promote this brain maturation. They found increased levels of the growth factor FGF-2 (fibroblast growth factor) in the blood of the offspring of athletic females.
The researchers have not yet tested whether physical activity also promotes the intelligence of the offspring. They also warn against extrapolating their findings to humans right now.