A mouse model of autism has revealed how exercise changes the structure of the brain by eliminating the excess connections between neurons characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After one month of voluntary running on a wheel, behavioral differences disappeared and structural differences in ASD model mice’s brains were reduced.
The findings lend weight to the idea that it may be possible to reverse some of the behavioral characteristics of ASD.
“Voluntary exercise can be a safe, drug-free way to improve overall health and now we have a better understanding of how exercise can positively change brain structure in ASD,” said Associate Professor Ryuta Koyama, who led the research team at the University of Tokyo.
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This research study was performed in mice and researchers caution against expecting exercise to act as a panacea for humans.
In addition, the researchers did not explore different types of exercise and are not suggesting that people should now start using exercise as a treatment for ASD.
"If children are interested," says Koyama, "they should be encouraged to do any exercise they want, but this research does not reveal how different activities might affect the brains of children with ASD."