Multiple sclerosis: An exercise in brain protection

Exercise for people with multiple sclerosis protects against degeneration and improves physical function. 



A combined exercise programme might promote nerve protection in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to new research. A combination of aerobic exercise and pilates boosted levels of an anti-neurodegeneration factor, and improved physical functions in patients with MS.  

MS is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and nerve degeneration. Some studies suggest that exercise is helpful in managing the symptoms of MS, but the reasons behind this benefit are unclear. Ceren Ozkul and colleagues from Gazi University in Turkey aimed to gain new insight into the ways in which exercise helps. 

The study involved 36 people with MS. Over a period of eight weeks, half of them took part in aerobic exercise and pilates training, while the other half only engaged in relaxation activities. The researchers assessed the effects by measuring blood levels of compounds that protect against MS, and by assessing the participants’ physical abilities at the beginning and end of the period. 

The exercise programme led to increases in blood levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor that protects neurons from degeneration. Blood levels of BDNF did not change over the same period in participants who engaged in the relaxation programme. The finding indicates that exercise has a neuroprotective effect by increasing levels of BDNF. 

The researchers also measured blood levels of SOCS1 and SOCS3, proteins that suppress cytokine signalling, modulating the effects of inflammation-promoting cytokines in MS. SOCS1 and SOCS3 levels did not change with exercise, but SOCS1 did increase in participants of the relaxation programme. 

The exercise programme was also associated with an improvement in balance, functional exercise capacity and fatigue. By contrast, fatigue worsened in patients who did not exercise, while other measures of physical ability did not change. 

The findings demonstrate that a combined exercise programme can improve physical function in patients with MS through increasing BDNF levels, thus protecting against neurodegeneration. The researchers say further studies are needed to understand their role and the effects of exercise on inflammation in MS.


  1. Ozkul, C., Guclu-Gunduz, A., Irkec, C., Fidin, I., Aydin, Y. et al. Effect of combined exercise training on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor, suppressors of cytokine signalling 1 and 3 in patients with multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neuroimmunology 316, 121–129 (2018). | article

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