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Proposed study will observe the relationship between BDNF levels and the improvement in

executive function after a one-year exercise intervention

Author: Aneta Jelowicki
Date: May 9, 2015
Address: 3417 Sentous Square, 780 S.
Flower Street, Pittsburg, PA 15260
Phone Number: (893)748-9033

Studies have shown that executive function decreases with age. However, aerobic exercise shows
potential in reducing this decline by up-regulating brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). Therefore,
the purpose of this study is to measure changes in BDNF levels and cognitive functions of elderly
participants after they undergo a one-year exercise regimen. Participants will be separated into a control
group or a moderate intensity walking group and blood samples will be analyzed to determine BDNF
levels. Then the task-switching exercise will be conducted to measure the participants cognitive function.
The goal is to correlate BDNF levels with the improvement of executive function when elders participate
in aerobic exercise and in turn promote improvement in their well-being.
Keywords: BDNF, cognitive function, exercise, aging, physical activity, mediation analysis
Project Description:
The overall objective of this research is to examine the production levels of serum brain-derived
neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and the task-switch performance in older individuals after a one-year long
exercise intervention. With age, serum BDNF levels decrease gradually and correlates with age-related
cognitive function decline (Kramer et al., 1999a). This issue thus poses the question of whether BDNF
levels in the body play a significant role in preserving cognitive function in elder individuals.
Exercise in late adulthood, as seen in previous clinical trials, is possibly an effective approach to
preserve and to improve cognitive function (Kramer et al., 1999a). For example, research has shown a
positive correlation with memory and cognitive function improvement with moderate-intensity walking
exercises (Podewils et al., 2005). Such results establish that increasing the amount of exercise is
correlated with reducing the threat of cognitive function impairment (Podewils et al., 2005). Other
research projects identified the cognitive task called task-switch performance as one to properly measure
performance speed and accuracy relationships in elder participants (Salthouse et al., 1998; Kray and

Lindenberger, 2000). However, the mechanism of how exercise increases cognitive function is poorly
understood. Findings from previous studies suggest that BDNF levels are a factor for cognitive health, but
the knowledge of BDNF being mediated by exercise and in turn improving cognitive performance
remains unclear. Therefore it is reasoned necessary to identify age as an important moderator of exercise
and its effects on BDNF levels and cognitive function. More specifically, older participants may show a
greater increase in BDNF levels than the other, younger participants (Lommatzsch et al., 2005). Overall,
the major goal of the proposed research is to identify if a 12-month long exercise regimen induces
changes in serum BDNF production levels in elderly participants and how it mediates executive function.
Specific objectives to accomplish this goal are as follows: to identify if age controls the effect of
exercise on BDNF level changes, to identify if age controls the effect of exercise on task-switch
performance, and to identify if BDNF mediates the effect of exercise on task-switch performance as a
function of age. The longer term goals of this project is to improve the well-being of elder individuals in
society by establishing an understanding of the importance of exercise and how it affects BDNF levels.
Understanding this relationship may connect how exercise improves ones cognitive performance.
The general plan of work for this research will encompass the process of selecting participants to
assess cognitive function after BDNF levels are measured. To qualify for the study, the participants must
follow these criteria: (i) be in the age range of 55 and 80, (ii) be right-handed, (iii) score higher than 51 on
the Mini-Mental Statues Examination (iv) receive less than 3 on the Geriatric Depression scale which
rules out participants with depression, a factor that affects BDNF production in the body. Furthermore,
participants need to (v) show they do not have color vision problems, (vi) show they obtain at least 20/40
on their corrected visual acuity, (vii) not have a history of neurological diseases or infarcts, including
Alzheimers disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke or Parkinsons disease, (viii) not have a vasculature

problem history, like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, because with such histories, production of BDNF
may be irregular. Lastly, each participant must (ix) ask for permission from their physician, and (x)
individually sign an informed consent form provided by the University of Illinois to show they understand
the criteria. Most importantly, the participants must report their current activity status, because the study
is looking for participants who have been physically inactive, defined as being active no more than two
times in the last six months for longer than thirty minutes. The rationale for these criteria is to work with
participants whose BDNF production is low and observe the production changes once physical activity
Each participant will then have their blood collected to measure original BDNF levels prior to
exercise. Then, the participants aerobic fitness will be assessed using the Voss et al. (2010a) methods to
determine maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), a criteria of measuring baseline cardiorespiratory fitness.
Oxygen uptake will be measured while the subject walks on a treadmill at a quickened pace, a little
quicker than their walking pace and increasing the pace in 2% increments every 30 seconds. Maximal
oxygen is identified as either a plateau in VO2 during the exercise or obtain a ratio greater than 1.00 in
their respiratory exchange, which will be recorded in units of milliliters per kilogram per minute. These
methods will assess each participants exercise level and capacity.
After the assessment, the subjects will be separated into an aerobic exercise group or a control
group. The aerobic exercise group will be led by a trained exercise leader. The group will follow
McAuley et al. (2011) and Erickson et al. (2011) exercise guidelines and begin with a 10 minute walk the
first week and increase the duration until 40 minutes is reached at week 7. Participants will then continue
their 40 minute sessions for the rest of the program. Throughout the program, the participants will wear
heart rate monitors to encourage them to walk at a rate that reaches 50-60% their maximum heart rate,
which will be calculated by the Karvonen method (Strath et al., 2000). The goal of this exercise regimen
is to improve the participants health and track the BDNF level changes in correlation to the level of
exercise. The stretching and toning control group, led by an exercise trainer, will engage in stretching

exercises during the class, focusing on four muscle groups. To maintain the participants interest, a new
set of exercise will be presented every 3 weeks. The overall objective of this group is to engage the
participants in the study and in the long run promote exercise.
Blood will be collected before and after the exercise program to determine BDNF level changes.
Serum BDNF levels will be quantified using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, which will follow
the Human BDNF Quantikine Immunoassay, DBD00, R&D Systems protocol to assess if the exercise
program had an effect on BDNF production.
The last task involving the participants will be the cognitive assessment which uses a taskswitching paradigm that is commonly used to evaluate cognitive flexibility and inhibition (Kramer et al.,
1999a,b). Participants will be tested on their accuracy and reaction on the task-switch test, as seen in
Figure 1. This paradigm is ideal for this study because cognitive function will be assessed and will further
compare how the exercise program may have an effect on cognitive functions.
Broader Impacts:
The main focus of this study is to observe how BDNF levels in the elderly effect their cognitive
function. A broader impact of this study is to directly improve the well-being of elder individuals in
society by indicating the importance of exercise and what these individuals may gain from participating in
aerobic exercises. For instance, the elder individuals will become healthier, improve their cognitive
function, and prevent the onset of Alzheimers disease. An increased quality of life may impact the
economy by decreasing the average health costs for the elderly. Overall, the necessity of considering age
and BDNF levels when designing exercise regimens for adults can show to have greater effect on
improving cognitive function, especially in the elderly.
Biographical Sketch:
Aneta Jelowicki is a fourth year at California State University, Fullerton working on her Bachelors of
Science in Biochemistry. She has successfully completed all of the general Biochemistry courses as well

as several upper division Biology courses that considerably help her excel in her laboratory research.
Aneta currently works in an organic chemistry laboratory with the help of Dr. Peter de Lijser to
synthesize small organic molecules. These small organic molecules will be tested in biological assays in
the laboratory of Dr. Nilay Patel to determine how the structure of the molecule affects cancer cell lines.
Her goals are to graduate in the spring of 2016 with her B.S. in Biochemistry and continue on to graduate
school where she plans to work in a biochemistry research laboratory.

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