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Aerobic exercise impacts the anterior cingulate cortex in adolescents with subthreshold mood syndromes: a randomized controlled trial study

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Kangguang Lin, Brendon Stubbs, Wenjin Zou, Wenjing Zheng, Weicong Lu, Yanling Gao, Kun Chen, Shengli Wang, Jie Liu, Yanxiong Huang, Lijie Guan, Mabel Ngai Kiu Wong, Runhua Wang, Bess Yin-Hung Lam, Guiyun Xu

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2020

King's Authors


Aerobic exercise is effective in alleviating mood symptoms while the mechanism is poorly understood. There are limited clinical trials that investigated the effect of exercise on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a key brain region involved in mood regulations, in adolescents with subthreshold mood syndromes. This randomized controlled trial (RCT) of aerobic exercise was undertaken in a middle school in Guangzhou, China. Participants were adolescents aged 12-14 with subthreshold mood syndromes including depressive and manic symptoms and were randomly assigned to an aerobic exercise intervention or a psychoeducation control group. Participants in the exercise group received moderate-intensity exercise intervention, consisting of 30 mins running, 4 days per week for 3 months. The primary outcome in this study was structural changes in the ACC from baseline to post intervention. The trial was registered with (NCT03300778). Of 56 participants who met the criteria for subthreshold mood syndromes, 39 (41.03% males) had complete MRI data, with 20 and 19 subjects in the exercise and control group, respectively. At baseline, demographic information (e.g., age and sex), clinical symptoms, and the gray matter volume and cortical thickness of ACC were matched between the two groups. After 12 weeks of treatment, participants in the exercise group displayed increased gray matter volume of the left rostral ACC (F1,30 = 5.73, p = 0.02) and increased cortical thickness of the right rostral ACC (F1,30 = 7.83, p = 0.01) when compared with the control group. No significant differences were found for caudal ACC cortical thickness and gray matter volume. Our data demonstrate that 12-week, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can induce structural changes in the rostral ACC in adolescents with subthreshold mood syndromes.

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