An Exercise Training Intervention for Depressive Symptoms in Youth with MS: A Randomized Controlled Feasibility Trial

Start Term
End Term
Funding Amount
University of Toronto
Geographic Region(s) / Province(s)
Research Priorities
Cognition and mental health
Life-modifying therapies
Impact Goal(s)
Advance Treatment and Care


  • There is emerging evidence that higher levels of physical activity is associated with lower levels of depression, fatigue, and disease activity in youth (i.e. fewer lesions and lower relapse rates).
  • This project aims to evaluate the feasibility of an exercise intervention to improve health outcomes in youth with MS. Researchers will also examine the underlying biological mechanisms for the benefits of exercise.
  • This project has the potential to identify effective strategies to address MS symptoms and improve health outcomes in youth with MS.

Project Description: 

Approximately one-third of children with MS experience depression and fatigue - this is three times greater than in otherwise healthy children. Identifying effective strategies that can reduce depressive symptoms in pediatric MS is needed.

An exercise intervention may address this gap. Exercise is associated with clinically important outcomes, including depression, cognition, and brain structure in youth with MS. Recent insights have highlighted possible mechanisms of neuroprotection and functional recovery from exercise. A factor called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), has been linked with exercise. BDNF has a role in brain development, brain plasticity, brain function and learning. Another factor called irisin has been found to increase BDNF secretion. Increases in irisin has been found to be associated with vigorous exercise and reductions in depressive symptoms.

Whether exercise training can improve depressive symptoms in children with MS is unknown. Dr. Ann Yeh and team will be studying the feasibility of an exercise intervention for children with MS. They are implementing a 20-week home-based exercise training intervention in 40 youth with MS. They will evaluate the feasibility of this intervention in addition to changes in depressive symptoms, cognition, brain volume, and blood markers to evaluate BDNF and irisin.


This research has the potential to provide evidence for the benefits of physical activity in youth with MS and will provide insight into the biological pathways involved in this process.

Project Status: In progress

This is a partnership between MS Canada and the National MS Society (US). Together, we are providing $661,301 USD in funding for the project. MS Canada is providing $600,000 CAD towards the project.