, Volume 220, Issue 1, pp 183–193 | Cite as

Cognitive impairments caused by oxaliplatin and 5-fluorouracil chemotherapy are ameliorated by physical activity

  • Joanna E. Fardell
  • Janette Vardy
  • Jeanette D. Shah
  • Ian N. Johnston
Original Investigation



Studies in women with breast cancer, and in animal models, have demonstrated that chemotherapy can have a negative impact on cognitive function. Which chemotherapy agents cause problems with cognition and the aetiology of the impairment is unknown. Furthermore, there is no proven treatment.


This study aimed to evaluate the effects of 5-fluorouracil (5FU) and oxaliplatin (OX) chemotherapy agents commonly used to treat colorectal cancer on cognition in laboratory rodents. Furthermore, we assessed physical activity as a potential remedy for the observed chemotherapy-induced cognitive deficits.


In rodents, treatment with 5FU and OX alone impairs memory as measured by novel object recognition. But combined treatment appears to have greater detrimental effects on hippocampal-dependent tasks, contextual fear recall and spatial reference memory (water maze), yet had no effect on cued fear recall, a non-hippocampal task. These impairments were prevented by 4 weeks of wheel running overnight after 5FU/OX treatment. We found a significant interaction between chemotherapy and exercise: rats receiving both 5FU/OX and exercise had improved cognition relative to non-exercising 5FU/OX rats on novel object recognition and spatial reference memory.


The combination 5FU/OX had a significant impact on cognition. However, rats treated with 5FU/OX that exercised post chemotherapy had improved cognition relative to non-exercising rats. This suggests that physical activity may prove useful in ameliorating the cognitive impairments induced by 5FU/OX.


Chemotherapy Cognition Oxaliplatin 5-Fluorouracil Exercise 



The authors thank Professor R.A. Boakes for his assistance with the running wheels and feedback on level of running wheel exposure and Alex Russell for statistical advice. Research Scholar Award funding from the Cancer Institute NSW, Australia supported the research presented here.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanna E. Fardell
    • 1
    • 3
  • Janette Vardy
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jeanette D. Shah
    • 1
  • Ian N. Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Sydney Cancer CentreUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Cancer Institute New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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