Exercise Promotes Brain Plasticity (BSP 111)

John Ratey, MD
Click picture to hear interview

According to psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey the best way to improve brain plasticity is by exercise.  I spoke to him shortly after he published his best-seller Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008). He commented that even compared to drugs "Exercise is the champ."

Download BSP 111

Since then Dr. Ratey has been traveling the world promoting the value of exercise for people of all ages, but his main focus has been on young people and on trying to restore and invigorate physical education programs in the schools. In Spark he provided some of the preliminary evidence that vigorous exercise promotes better academic performance, but that evidence had continued to mount.

Besides improving academic performance regular exercise also helps over all mental health. Exercise is especially effective for problems like depression and ADHD. Our brains rely on a complex mixture of neuroactive chemicals (neurotransmitters, etc.), but since our understanding of these is still very primitive, treatment with drugs can be unpredictable. Dr. Ratey feels that medications can be an important part of treating problems like ADHD, but that exercise should be included as an essential element.

Of course, even those of us who don't struggle with mental illnes are concerned with keeping our brains healthy as we age. Here again Dr. Ratey argues that exercise is essential. He speculates that exercise tricks your brain "into thinking that you're younger and that you still need to grow, as opposed to being stationary and having atrophy occur." Also, when you keep on learning (new things) your brain continues to respond and build new pathways. This is very similar to what Dr. Michael Merzenich (one of the pioneers of brain plasticity) told us in BSP 105.

Dr. Ratey is working on a new book that will be an update on the science that has been done since Spark was published, but his 2008 interview remains one of my favorites. That's why I just released an updated version of this interview as BSP 111. 

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

References and Links

Related Episodes:

Announcements:

  • Reminder: The Brain Science Podcast mobile app is now FREE for iOS, Android and Windows Mobile. Click here to learn more.

  • This is the first time I have reposted an older episode. I need listener suggestions about what other older episodes you would like me to share with new listeners.

  • Don't forget to check out my other podcast Books and Ideas.

  • Please share your feedback about this episode by sending email to brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com or going to the Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum at http://brainscienceforum.com. You can also post to our fan pages on Facebook or Google+.

"Neurobiology for Dummies" (BSP 110)

 Frank Amthor, PhD: Click image to play BSP 110

Frank Amthor, PhD: Click image to play BSP 110

Frank Amthor's latest book Neurobiology for Dummies isn't just for readers who are new to neuroscience. In this excellent follow-up to his Neuroscience for Dummies Dr. Amthor discusses a wide variety of brain-related topics. Since I have known Frank for several years it was a special treat to interview him for BSP 110. We talked about a wide variety of ideas ranging from what makes neurons special to how brains differ from current computers. 

How to get this episode:

  • FREE: audio mp3 (click to stream, right click to download)
  • Buy Episode Transcript for $1.
  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

Reference and Links:

Announcements:

Neurobiology of Placebos with Fabrizio Benedetti (BSP 77)

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Fabrizio Benedetti, MD 

Fabrizio Benedetti is one of the world's leading researchers of the neurobiology of placebos.  In a recent interview (BSP 77) he explained to me that he believes that "today we are in a very good position to describe, from a biological and from an evolutionary approach, the doctor-patient relationship, and the placebo effect, itself."

To appreciate Dr. Benedetti's work, one must first realize that his approach differs from that of the typical clinical trial.  As he observed, "To the clinical trialist, a placebo effect means any improvement which may take place after placebo administration.  To the neurobiologist, a placebo response, or placebo effect means only something active in the brain happening after placebo administration: learning, anxiety reduction, activation of reward mechanisms."

In contrast, he explains, "The real placebo response, the real placebo effect is a psychobiological phenomenon.  It is something active happening in the brain after placebo administration: like learning, like anxiety reduction, and such like." Brain Science Podcast #77 provides an introduction to this complex, but fascinating topic.

How to get this episode:

References

  • Benedetti F, Mayberg HS, Wager TD, Stohler CS, Jon-Kar Zubieta J (2005) Neurobiological Mechanisms of the Placebo Effect. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25,10390-10402. (Full article)
  • Benedetti F (2009) Placebo Effects: Understanding the mechanisms in health and disease. Oxford University Press.
  • Benedetti F (2011) The Patient's Brain: The neuroscience behind the doctor-patient relationship. Oxford University Press.
  • Levine JD, Gordon NC and Fields, HL (1978) The mechanisms of placebo analgesia. Lancet, 2, 654-7. (Abstract)
  • Levine JD, Gordon NC and Fields, HL (1978) “The mechanisms of placebo analgesia.” Lancet, 2, 654-7. (Abstract). See also a follow-up paper: Levine JD, Gordon NC, Bornstein JC, and H L Fields HL (1979) “Role of pain in placebo analgesia.” Proc Natl Acad Sci76(7): 3528–3531. (full text)
  • Volkow, ND, Wang JG, Ma Y, Fowler JS, Zhu W, Maynard L et al. (2003) Expectation enhances the regional brain metabolic and the reinforcing effects of stimulants in cocaine abusers. Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 11261–8. (Full text)
  • de la Fuente-Fernández R, et al. (2001) Expectation and Dopamine Release: Mechanism of the Placebo Effect in Parkinson's Disease. Science293, 1164. (Abstract)
  • Benedetti F, Colloca L, Torre E et al. (2004) Placebo-responsive Parkinson patients show decreased activity in single neurons of the subthalamic nucleus. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 587-88. (Abstract)
  • Herrnstein RJ, (1962) Placebo Effect in the Rat. Science138, 677-678.
  • Linde K, Witt CM, Streng A et al. (2007) The impact of patient expectation in four randomized control trials of acupuncture in patients with chronic pain. Pain, 128, 264-71. (Abstract)
  • See Episode Transcript for additional references.

Announcements

Corrections

  •  32:48 only NON-members are eligible to get a free audiobook download from our sponsor at http://audiblepodcast.com/brainscience.
  • Dr. Benedetti’s first book is called Placebo Effects, not Placebo “responses”.
  • Special Thanks to Lori Wolfson for finding these mistakes and correcting them in the episode transcript.

Send me feedback at gincampbell at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

More on BDNF: "Miracle Grow" for the Brain

In Episode 33 of the Brain Science Podcast, Harvard's Dr. John Ratey introduced us to brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which he described as "Miracle Grow for the Brain" because it actually stimulates the grow of new neurons in the brain.  The emphasis in our discussion was on the importance of exercise in stimulating the release of BDNF.

If you are interested in checking out some further references on BDNF, you may want to check out Charles Daney's Science and Reason Blog.  Daney also does a good job of explaining exactly what a neurotropic factor is and does.

Year-end Review for 2007 (BSP 27)

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Episode 27 is a look back on the first 26 episodes of the Brain Science Podcast.

I look back on some of the main topics that we have explored including memory, consciousness, emotions, decision-making, body maps, and plasticity.  Then I talk a little about what I hope to do in the covering year.  This episode is a little more personal than most, and will mainly be of interest to regular listeners.  It includes some ideas about how you can help the Brain Science Podcast grow and prosper.

However, in preparing this episode, I went back over the past year's episodes, and I have prepared a list of all the episodes so far and the main topics.  This should help both new listeners and regulars to find episodes that pertain to particular topics.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1.
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.
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Brain Science Podcast's First Six Months (BSP 14)

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Although the first full episode of the Brain Science Podcast appeared on December 15, 2006, I went live with an introductory podcast around December 1, 2006.  (I have deleted episode 0 from the feed).  At any rate, I decided it was time to look back over the first six months and reflect on some of the topics we have covered.

This is one of the shorter episodes, but I hope it will bring some of the key ideas back to mind (and encourage new listeners to go back and get the older episodes).  It will also give you a glimpse of what we will be discussing in the next few months.

As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1
  • Transcripts: BSP 1-14
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

 

How Neurons Communicate: A Detailed Introduction (BSP 8)

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When I started preparing for this week's episode I realized that before I could discuss neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) I would need to discuss some basic information about how neurons work. Thus this episode is rather long and technical, but hopefully understandable to those who are new to the field. I am including more detailed show notes than I usually do, along with the approximate times for the main sections, in case there is a particular topic you want to go back and review.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy BSP 1-10 (zip file of mp3 files)
  • Transcripts: BSP 1-14
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

The main source for this episode was the textbook, From Neuron to Brain: A Cellular and Molecular Approach to the Function of the Nervous System, Fourth Edition (2001)

Topic Outline:

2:39-11:33 Neuronal signaling-the basics of electrical and chemical signaling types of signaling-electrical and chemical introducing the synapse the importance of membrane proteins

11:55 - 13:03   A bried discussion of how the brain differs from a  digital computer

13:3 3-13:50   Definition of neurotransmitters-

13:56 -22:10   How neurotransmitters interact with receptors in the synapse

-direct and indirect  chemical synapses-why they are important

-neuromuscular junction-an example of a direct chemical synapse

-the importance of synaptic delay

-the role of second messengers in indirect chemical synapses

-release and recycling of neurotransmitters

22:25 -29:42 Types of Neurotransmitters and how they work-with examples

-how neuropeptides differ from low molecular weight neurotransmitters

-a little about how drugs work

29:58 - 41:54  How Neurotransmitters function in the Central Nervous System-with examples

-Glutamate is the key excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain

-an aside about Nutrasweet™ (30:33)

-glycine and GABA are inhibitatory

-acetycholine (33:32-34:34)

-discussion of Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert (35:30-36:55)

-serotonin

-histamine

-dopamine and Parkinson's disease

42:07 - 43:36  Closing Summary