NICE, FRANCE — High intensity interval training (HIIT) may increase serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in patients with idiopathic Parkinson disease (iPD), along with improvement of neuroplasticity and quality of life, according to study results presented at the International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, held September 22 to 26, 2019 in Nice, France.

Previous studies have shown that BDNF plays an important role in neuron proliferation, growth and plasticity, and protects against neuron degeneration. Serum BDNF levels are lower in patients with iPD, compared to healthy controls. Several studies have shown that physical training can increase serum BDNF levels in healthy individuals and patients with iPD, and that HIIT training is more effective than aerobic training of moderate intensity.

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The goal of the current study was to assess the response of serum BDNF and microribonucleic acid (miRNA) levels to a 12-week HIIT program in patients with iPD.

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The study cohort included 32 volunteers with iPD, 16 of whom underwent 12 weeks of HIIT and 16 age-matched controls. Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction was used to determine the expression of miRNA and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to measure serum BDNF levels before and after the intervention. In addition, Purdue Pegboard Test and World Health Organization Quality Of Life-BREF survey were used to assess the improvement of neuroplasticity and quality of life, respectively.

Results showed increased BDNF levels and stimulated expression of miRNA involved in BDNF expression. Following completion of the HIIT training program there was evidence for increased quality of life and neuroplasticity, which correlated with decreased Hoehn and Yahr scale scores.

“Twelve weeks HIIT training may elevates serum BDNF level in iPD patients, improves neuroplasticity and slows down the disease progression which correlates with their improvement of life quality,” concluded the researchers.

Deborah Hall, Director of the Movement Disorders Program at Rush University Medical Center commented that “[t]hough the study was small, it may lead the way toward future research and impact on treatment for PD at a therapeutic level.” She goes on to add that while “neurologists are frequently asking their patients with PD to exercise, not all patients are able or willing to do so, especially at levels used in many of the aerobic studies. By understanding what happens on a cellular or chemical level in these PD exercisers who improve clinically, we may be able to provide an intervention or therapeutic that can lead to the same benefits as exercise without the work of exercising.”


  1. Malczynska P, Kaminski B, Siemiatycka M, et al. High intensity interval training elevates circulating BDNF and miRNAs level in patients with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. Poster presentation at the International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders; 22-26, 2019; Nice, France. Abstract: 969.
  2. High Intensity Interval Training May Elevate Serum BDNF Levels in Parkinson’s Disease [news release]. Nice, France: Movement Disorder Society; September 24, 2019. Accessed September 25, 2019.

This article originally appeared on Neurology Advisor