Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 6, pp 2527–2545 | Cite as

A new perspective of the hippocampus in the origin of exercise–brain interactions



Exercising regularly is a highly effective strategy for maintaining cognitive health throughout the lifespan. Over the last 20 years, many molecular, physiological and structural changes have been documented in response to aerobic exercise training in humans and animals, particularly in the hippocampus. However, how exercise produces such neurological changes remains elusive. A recent line of investigation has suggested that muscle-derived circulating factors cross into the brain and may be the key agents driving enhancement in synaptic plasticity and hippocampal neurogenesis from aerobic exercise. Alternatively, or concurrently, the signals might originate from within the brain itself. Physical activity also produces instantaneous and robust neuronal activation of the hippocampal formation and the generation of theta oscillations which are closely correlated with the force of movements. The repeated acute activation of the hippocampus during physical movement is likely critical for inducing the long-term neuroadaptations from exercise. Here we review the evidence which establishes the association between physical movement and hippocampal neuronal activation and discuss implications for long-term benefits of physical activity on brain function.


Exercise Hippocampus Theta rhythm Learning Memory Physical activity Neurogenesis Movement Spatial learning Plasticity Neuronal activation Muscle Myokines 



The authors acknowledge Dr. João Guerreiro for his contribution in preparing Fig. 2.


This work was supported by NIH R21 NS104293, R01 MH083807 and R01 DA027487.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research involving human participants and/or animals

Not applicable, no original studies were conducted, this is a review article.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and TechnologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  3. 3.School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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