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November 10, 2006

The Effects of Lifestyle on Brain Plasticity and Disease

Dr. Fernando Gómez-Pinilla
Dept. of Physiological Science

Animal and human studies show the powerful capacity of lifestyle to modulate brain plasticity and cognition.  I will discuss mechanisms by which nutrients, caloric intake, exercise, and experience impact neural function by supporting molecular systems that control synaptic plasticity and cognition.  These events are critical for maintaining brain homeostasis and ultimately determine the resistance of neurons to insults associated with aging, injury, and neurodegenerative diseases.  Management of diet and lifestyle provides a realistic approach to counteract neural dysfunction. Emerging evidence supports the role of neurotrophins, i.e., brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) on synaptic plasticity and cognitive function will be discussed.  As well as how dysfunction in the BDNF signaling system may confer susceptibility to neurological disorders affecting cognitive abilities. I will discuss how diet, exercise, and other components of daily living can affect analogous molecular systems.  This feature may define a molecular mechanism by which lifestyle affects brain plasticity, and provide for a way to counteract cognitive deficits.