Sleep Hormone and Exercise Show Alzheimer’s Benefits in Mice

A study has shown that a combination of physical exercise and treatment with the hormone melatonin could have benefits in mice bred to show features of Alzheimer’s. The research was published this week in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

The hormone melatonin is involved in the control of the sleep-wake cycle and is being tested as a potential treatment for sleep disturbances in Alzheimer’s. Melatonin is also believed to have additional anti-inflammatory properties and may protect cells from the damage caused by chemical stress. Evidence suggests that physical exercise also has benefits, not only for reducing the risk of dementia, but for helping those who already have the condition.

The team of scientists from Spain investigated whether physical exercise combined with melatonin treatment could have benefits in mice genetically engineered to show features of Alzheimer’s. The study was started at a time when the mice were already starting to show some cognitive problems and Alzheimer’s-like changes in their brains.

The researchers used behavioural and cognitive tasks to assess the effect of the treatments, and monitored any biochemical changes in the brains of the mice. They found that melatonin, exercise, and a combination of the two, all improved performance of the mice on certain learning and memory tests, compared to those which were not treated.

There were also benefits for brain chemistry, with treated mice appearing to show greater resistance to the chemical damage seen in the brains of the Alzheimer’s mice. Exercise and melatonin together appeared to have combined benefits for maintaining the energy balance of brain cells.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Previous research has suggested that people with Alzheimer’s may benefit from daily exercise and we know that the disease can also disturb a person’s internal body clock. This study suggests that exercise together with the hormone melatonin – known to regulate the sleep-wake cycle – could protect brain cells in mice from some of the damage association with Alzheimer’s.

“What is true in mice is not always true in humans, but there is research underway in people to look at both exercise and melatonin to help with Alzheimer’s. We will need to wait for the results from studies in people before we know what the real benefits could be. There is a desperate need for more research into treatments for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. With dementia research so underfunded compared to other diseases, we must continue to invest if we are to make a difference to the 820,000 in the UK living with the condition.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

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