The aim in this study was to investigate whether physical exercise could induce astroglial proliferation in the frontoparietal cortex and dorsolateral striatum where extensive angiogenesis had been found after exercise in previous studies. Adult male Sprague Dawley rats (n = 48) were used in four experimental groups. Animals were exercised 30 min each day on a treadmill on which repetitive locomotor movement was required, for 0 (n = 12), 3 (n = 12) or 6 (n = 12) weeks, as well as 3-week exercise plus 3-week rest (n = 12). Brain tissues of the exercised and non-exercised rats were processed for glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) immunocytochemistry (n = 6 × 4) and Western blotting (n = 6 × 4) to evaluate regional astrocyte proliferation in the frontoparietal cortex and dorsolateral striatum. By using GFAP immunocytochemistry and stereological methods, we compared the density of astrocytes in the animals with or without exercise. In comparison to non-exercised animals, a significant (p < 0.01) increase in the number of astrocytes was observed in both cortex and striatum of rats exercised for 3 or 6 weeks. Our data also indicated that astrocytic density continued to increase up to 6 weeks either with an additional 3 weeks of exercise (p < 0.01) or 3 weeks of rest (p < 0.01). In addition, Western blotting analysis showed an obvious increase in GFAP protein from cortex and striatum of exercised animals. Astrocytosis after exercise, coupled with angiogenesis, is thought to provide strength to the neurovascular unit (a construct consisting of microvascular endothelium, astroglia, neurons and the extracellular matrix). Strengthening of this unit by exercise may protect blood-brain-barrier function following brain injury, such as that occurring after stroke. © 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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