Research Examines the Benefits of Exercise for Preventing Relapse

A federally supported project will focus on the role of the chemical galanin.

Could a regular regimen of aerobic exercise play a significant role in preventing relapse to drug abuse? Researchers at two Georgia universities are looking into the mechanisms of a brain chemical that is associated with exercise activity, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The five-year project, involving researchers from the University of Georgia and Emory University, will measure exercise-induced increases in the chemical galanin in the brains of rats. Galanin decreases norepinephrine, which is activated in stress response and in turn stimulates dopamine, which can induce cravings for substances of abuse.

The researchers hypothesize that exercise-induced regulation of galanin can prevent drug use that occurs in response to stress, through this protective effect against activation of the norepinephrine system.

“This research will provide new insight into how regular exercise may attenuate drug abuse in humans,” says David Weinshenker, associate professor of human genetics at Emory University’s School of Medicine. “More importantly, it may reveal a neural mechanism through which exercise may prevent the relapse into drug-seeking behavior.”

While the results of this research could point to the value of certain exercise programs as part of recovery support, they also could create momentum for developing medications that increase galanin in the brain.