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How intense exercise increases MND risk

Monday June 14th 2021

High performance athletics can increase the change of developing motor neurone disease for those who are genetically at risk, British researchers have found.

The Sheffield University study links frequent, strenuous exercise to accelerate development of the disease.

The effect is most clear for those who have the mutant C9ORF72 gene, responsible for 10% of cases, according to the researchers.

It follows earlier findings suggesting a six fold increased risk for professional football players.

The findings come from an analysis of 350,000 people in the UK Biobank and the researchers say that by using Mendelian randomisation they have allowed for potentially confounding factors, such as the role of high impact sports – a potential factor for football players.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, director of the university’s neuroscience institute, said: “This research goes some way towards unravelling the link between high levels of physical activity and the development of MND in certain genetically at-risk groups. We studied the link using three different approaches and each indicated that regular strenuous exercise is a risk factor associated with MND.

“There are three important key findings of the study. Firstly, those who have a genetic make-up favouring strenuous physical activity have an increased risk of developing MND. Many of the 30 plus genes known to predispose to MND change in their levels of expression during intense physical exercise and individuals who have a mutation in the C9ORF72 gene, which accounts for 10% of MND cases, have an earlier age of disease onset if they have a lifestyle which includes high levels of strenuous physical activity.

“Clearly most people who undertake strenuous exercise do not develop motor neurone injury and more work is needed to pin-point the precise genetic risk factors involved. The ultimate aim is to identify environmental risk factors which can predispose to MND, to inform prevention of disease and life-style choices.”

Fellow researcher Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock said: “We have suspected for some time that exercise was a risk factor for MND, but until now this link was considered controversial. This study confirms that in some people, frequent strenuous exercise leads to an increase in the risk of MND.

“It is important to stress that we know that most people who undertake vigorous exercise do not develop MND. Sport has a large number of health benefits and most sportsmen and women do not develop MND.”

Physical exercise is a risk factor for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Convergent evidence from Mendelian randomisation, transcriptomics and risk genotypes. EBioMedicine June 2021


Tags: Brain & Neurology | Fitness | Genetics | UK News

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