Combined Exercise Training Increases BDNF in Relapsing-Remitting MS

The effect of 8 weeks of combined exercise training on serum BDNF concentration was examined in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

A combined exercise regimen consisting of aerobic and Pilates training increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and improves physical performance in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), according to a randomized trial published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology.

In the study, 36 patients with RRMS were randomly assigned to either a combined exercise program (MS-EX, n=18) or to serve as controls (MS-C, n=18). Participants in the combined exercise training group received aerobic and Pilates training 3 times a week for 8 weeks, whereas patients in the control group practiced at-home relaxation exercises 3 times a week for 8 weeks. Investigators compared patients in the MS-EX and MS-C groups to assess concentration differences in serum suppressors of cytokine signaling (SOCS)-1, SOCS3, and BDNF.

The serum concentrations of SOCS1, SOCS3, and BDNF were similar in the two patient groups at baseline (P >.05); however, serum BDNF levels increased at 8 weeks following the combined exercise program (P <.05). In addition, there were significantly greater improvements at 8 weeks in serum BDNF level, balance, fatigue, and functional exercise capacity in the MS-EX vs MS-C participants (P <.05).

Participants assigned to receive MS-C experienced a significant increase in SOCS1 level as well as fatigue at 8 weeks (P <.05), with no significant changes in this group with regard to balance, functional exercise, capacity, BDNF, or serum SOCS3.

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Investigators did not include patients with an Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score >5, which limits the applicability of the findings to patients with more severe MS phenotypes. In addition, the investigators did not study the effect of acute exercise on the analyzed biomarkers.

Overall, the findings suggest that “combined exercise training consisting of Pilates and aerobic exercise can be applied safely in ambulatory patients with MS for achieving” improvements in quality of life and possible protection against neurodegeneration.


Ozkul C, Guclu-Gunduz A, Irkec C, et al. Effect of combined exercise training on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor, suppressors of cytokine signaling 1 and 3 in patients with multiple sclerosis [published online January 3, 2018]. J Neuroimmunol. doi:10.1016/j.jneuroim.2018.01.002