The impact of exercise on blood-based biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease in cognitively unimpaired older adults

Kelsey R. Sewell, Stephanie R. Rainey-Smith, Steve Pedrini, Jeremiah J. Peiffer, Hamid R. Sohrabi, Kevin Taddei, Shaun J. Markovic, Ralph N. Martins, Belinda M. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Physical activity is a promising preventative strategy for Alzheimer’s disease: it is associated with lower dementia risk, better cognition, greater brain volume and lower brain beta-amyloid. Blood-based biomarkers have emerged as a low-cost, non-invasive strategy for detecting preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, however, there is limited literature examining the effect of exercise (a structured form of physical activity) on blood-based biomarkers. The current study investigated the influence of a 6-month exercise intervention on levels of plasma beta-amyloid (Aβ42, Aβ40, Aβ42/40), phosphorylated tau (p-tau181), glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and neurofilament light (NfL) chain in cognitively unimpaired older adults, and as a secondary aim, whether blood-based biomarkers related to cognition. Ninety-nine community-dwelling older adults (69.1 ± 5.2) were allocated to an inactive control, or to moderate or high intensity exercise groups where they cycled twice weekly for six months. At baseline and six months (post-intervention), fasted blood was collected and analysed using single molecule array (SIMOA) assays, and cognition was assessed. Results demonstrated no change in levels of any plasma biomarker from pre- to post-intervention. At baseline, higher NfL was associated with poorer cognition (β = -0.33, SE = 0.13, adjusted p =.042). Exploratory analyses indicated higher cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with higher NfL and GFAP levels in apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4 non-carriers compared to ε4 carriers (NfL, β = -0.43, SE = 0.19, p =.029; GFAP, β = -0.41, SE = 0.20, p =.044), though this association was mediated by body mass index (BMI). These results highlight the importance of considering BMI in analysis of blood-based biomarkers, especially when investigating differences between APOE ε4 carriers and non-carriers. Our results also indicate that longer follow-up periods may be required to observe exercise-induced change in blood-based biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Mar 2024


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