Area of brain controlling the body’s response to exercise identified

Apr 30, 2007

The part of the brain which prepares our bodies for exercise, and controls our circulation and breathing while we exercise, has been identified by Oxford researchers.

A team from Oxford’s Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics has identified the brain location which is most active when we anticipate exercise: the periaqueductal grey area (PAG), the small-celled grey matter adjoining or surrounding the cerebral aqueduct and the third ventricle in the midbrain.

The findings were revealed in Washington, DC on 29 April during the 120th annual meeting of the American Physiological Society.

The team was able to look deep into the brain because Oxford is a leading centre in the use of deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted inside the brain to treat problems including Parkinson’s, chronic pain and dystonia (a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions resulting in twisted movements and abnormal postures).

With the fully-informed consent of patients who have been treated with the electrodes and so have them in place in their brain long-term, researchers can use those electrodes to measure electrical activity in different parts of the brain once they have recovered from surgery. To identify the area of the brain associated with exercise, the team asked twelve such patients to perform light exercise. Their brain activity was measured both when they knew exercise was imminent, and then during exercise.

The results revealed that anticipation of exercise, with associated increases in heart rate, blood pressure and pulmonary ventilation, is associated with an increase in PAG activity. If the PAG is electrically stimulated when the subject is resting then blood pressure increases. This suggests that this portion of the brain is directly involved in the neurocircuitry of the brain’s central command system before the actual onset of movement. During exercise itself, PAG activity further increases.

For almost 100 years researchers have looked for the brain’s ‘central command’ system, whose role includes controlling the body’s cardiorespiratory response to exercise. Animal studies and functional imaging studies have provided clues to the location of this system, but the underlying electrophysiological activity has never been measured until the Oxford research.

However, ‘as to this bigger question in neuroscience about finding the “central command” area of the brain, we’re still not there,’ says Professor David Paterson, who presented the findings at the conference. ‘PAG is an important site, but we have not conclusively proved whether it is the “central command” area of the brain – so the 100-year search for answers continues.’

Source: University of Oxford

Explore further: Finding psychological insights through social media

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Slow motion at the speed of light'

19 minutes ago

New technology developed by a collaboration between the UA and the University of California, Los Angeles, provides real-time monitoring of streaming video to optimize network traffic.

Mystery giant Mars plumes still unexplained

39 minutes ago

On Feb. 16, an international group of researchers proposed new hypotheses about some unusual plumes spotted by amateur astronomers on Mars in 2012. The plumes were seen rising to altitudes of over 250 km ...

When performance comparisons spur risky behavior

41 minutes ago

When you're at work, there are two types of people you compete with: People with similar responsibilities at your own company, and rivals with similar duties at other companies. How do those different flavors ...

Where do stars form in merging galaxies?

41 minutes ago

Collisions between galaxies, and even less dramatic gravitational encounters between them, are recognized as triggering star formation. Observations of luminous galaxies, powered by starbursts, are consistent ...

Recommended for you

Finding psychological insights through social media

Feb 28, 2015

Social media has opened up a new digital world for psychology research. Four researchers will be discussing new methods of language analysis, and how social media can be leveraged to study personality, mental and physical ...

Aggressive boys tend to develop into physically stronger teens

Feb 27, 2015

Boys who show aggressive tendencies develop greater physical strength as teenagers than boys who are not aggressive, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Scienc ...

New app helps monitor depression

Feb 27, 2015

Scientists from the University of Birmingham have developed an app that can measure the activity patterns of patients with depression and provide the necessary support.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.