Rodents that engage in physical activity – running on a wheel, exploring their environment, and so on – have been found to recover better after spinal injuries than their sedentary counterparts. And now scientists are beginning to uncover the molecular nuts and bolts that explain why. Exercise, it turns out, modifies the chromatin [DNA’s packaging material] of nerve cells (red). Specifically, it increases the acetylation of histones [chromatin proteins] and this, in turn, increases the cells’ regenerative capacity. Excitingly, scientists have also discovered a small molecule that can recapitulate the effects of exercise, increasing histone acetylation (green/yellow) and regeneration capacity of nerves and improving recovery after spinal injury. While this molecule may lead to the development of a drug that promotes recovery and rehabilitation after nerve damage, such a drug is unlikely to replace the additional health benefits of exercise, so don’t go cancelling your gym memberships just yet.
Written by Ruth Williams
- Image by Simone Di Giovanni and Thomas Hutson, Imperial College London
- Centre for Restorative Neuroscience, Division of Brain Sciences, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, UK
- Image copyright held by the original authors
- Research published in Science Translational Medicine, April 2019