Physical exercise during adolescence, a critical developmental window, can facilitate neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus and astrogliogenesis in Cornu Ammonis (CA) hippocampal subfields of rats, and which have been associated with improved hippocampal dependent memory performance. Recent translational studies in humans also suggest that aerobic fitness is associated with hippocampal volume and better spatial memory during adolescence. However, associations between fitness, hippocampal subfield morphology, and learning capabilities in human adolescents remain largely unknown. Employing a translational study design in 34 adolescent males, we explored the relationship between aerobic fitness, hippocampal subfield volumes, and both spatial and verbal memory. Aerobic fitness, assessed by peak oxygen utilization on a high-intensity exercise test (VO2 peak), was positively associated with the volumetric enlargement of the hippocampal head, and the CA1 head region specifically. Larger CA1 volumes were also associated with spatial learning on a Virtual Morris Water Maze task and verbal learning on the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test, but not recall memory. In line with previous animal work, the current findings lend support for the long-axis specialization of the hippocampus in the areas of exercise and learning during adolescence.
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