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Influence of Physical Activity on Human Sensory Long-Term Potentiation

  • Nicola Smallwood (a1) (a2), Meg J. Spriggs (a1) (a2) (a3), Christopher S. Thompson (a1) (a2), Carolyn C. Wu (a1) (a2), Jeff P. Hamm (a1) (a2), David Moreau (a1) (a2) and Ian J. Kirk (a1) (a2) (a3)...


A growing body of literature has explored the influence of physical activity on brain structure and function. While the mechanisms of this relationship remain largely speculative, recent research suggests that one of the effects of physical exercise is an increase in synaptic long-term potentiation (LTP). This has not yet been explored directly in humans due to the difficulty of measuring LTP non-invasively. However, we have previously established that LTP-like changes in visual-evoked potentials (VEPs) can be measured in humans. Here, we investigated whether physical fitness status affects the degree of visual sensory LTP. Using a self-report measure of physical activity, participants were split into two groups: a high-activity group, and a low-activity group. LTP was measured and compared between the two groups using the previously established electroencephalography-LTP paradigm, which assesses the degree to which the N1b component of the VEP elicited by a sine grating is potentiated (enhanced) following a rapid “tetanic” presentation of that grating. Both groups demonstrated increased negativity in the amplitude of the N1b component of the VEP immediately after presentation of the visual “tetanus,” indicating potentiation. However, after a 30-min rest period, the N1b for the high-activity group remained potentiated while the N1b for the low-activity group returned to baseline. This study presents the first evidence for the impact of self-reported levels of physical activity on LTP in humans, and sheds light on potential neurological mechanisms underlying the relationship between physical fitness and cognition. (JINS, 2015, 21, 831–840)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Meg J. Spriggs, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand. E-mail:


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