To successfully grow, neurons need to overcome the effects of hostile environments, such as the inhibitory action of myelin. We have evaluated the potential of exercise to overcome the intrinsic limitation of the central nervous system for axonal growth. In line with the demonstrated ability of exercise to increase the regenerative potential of neurons, here we show that exercise reduces the inhibitory capacity of myelin. Cortical neurons grown on myelin from exercised rats showed a more pronounced neurite extension compared with neurons grown on poly-D-lysine, or on myelin extracted from sedentary animals. The activity of cyclin-dependent kinase 5, a kinase involved in neurite outgrowth, was found to be increased in cortical neurons grown on exercise-myelin and in the lumbar spinal cord enlargement of exercised animals. Exercise significantly decreased the levels of myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG), a potent axonal growth inhibitor, suggesting that downregulation of MAG is part of the mechanism through which exercise reduces growth inhibition. It is known that exercise elevates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) spinal cord levels and that BDNF acts to overcome the inhibitory effects of myelin. Accordingly, we blocked the action of BDNF during exercise, which suppressed the exercise-related MAG decrease. Protein kinase A (PKA) has been related to the ability of BDNF to overcome growth inhibition; in agreement, we found that exercise increased PKA levels and this effect was reverted by blocking BDNF. Overall, these results show that exercise promotes a permissive cellular environment for axonal growth in the adult spinal cord requiring BDNF action.
Keywords: spinal cord injury, BDNF, MAG, neurite outgrowth, cdk5