Executive Function in Student-Athletes: Does the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Val66Met Polymorphism Moderate the Cognitive Benefits of Various Sporting Activity?

Project Number
OER 67/12 ASY

Project Duration
May 2013 - September 2016


The proposed study investigates the effects of regular sporting activity on executive function (EF) in adolescent athletes. Specifically, it will investigate whether there are differences in the relationship between different types of sporting activity and EF performance in student-athletes (13 and 14 year-olds). Previous studies show that chronic and acute exercise improves EF in children and adolescents (Best, 2010; Tomporowski et al., 2008). However, most did not specifically investigate cognitive engagement in different types of exercise, which could differentially affect EF. It could be that structured group games or team sports involve different cognitive processes compared to more solitary sports (Pellis & Pellis, 2007). Most previous research also did not include multiple EF measures nor use more common neuropsychological measures (Etnier & Chang, 2009). It is expected that students who play sports that have been classified as strategic sports (e.g., football) will perform better than those in the sedentary/ control (e.g., chess) and static sports (e.g., running) groups. A battery of EF, intelligence and ability or academic performance measures will be administered at two time points to track the students' EF development before and after the main competitive schools sporting season. This study also investigates if the relationship between sports, exercise amount/ intensity and Efs are moderated by the allelic status of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The Val66Met polymorphism in BDNF alters its secretion (Egan et al., 2003). Hopkins et al. (2012) found that adults with the Met allele may not benefit cognitively from exercise compared to those with only the Val allele. We expect to find this effect in our sample as well. There may also be an interaction effect between amount of cognitive involvement in the different types of sport and BDNF genotype. This study expands our current research on Efs and factors affecting cognitive development and students' performance. It is important to look at how regular sporting activity relates to academic and cognitive performance in a holistic education environment. We intend to conduct future studies on exercise interventions facilitating EF development, particularly in low-achieving students.

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