Drug reverses aging-associated changes in brain cells

December 7, 2011, Society for Neuroscience

Drugs that affect the levels of an important brain protein involved in learning and memory reverse cellular changes in the brain seen during aging, according to an animal study in the December 7 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings could one day aid in the development of new drugs that enhance cognitive function in older adults.

Aging-related memory loss is associated with the gradual deterioration of the structure and function of synapses (the connections between ) in critical to , such as the hippocampus. Recent studies suggested that histone acetylation, a chemical process that controls whether genes are turned on, affects this process. Specifically, it affects brain cells' ability to alter the strength and structure of their connections for , a process known as synaptic plasticity, which is a cellular signature of memory.

In the current study, Cui-Wei Xie, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues found that compared with younger rats, hippocampi from older rats have less brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) — a protein that promotes synaptic plasticity — and less histone acetylation of the Bdnf gene. By treating the hippocampal tissue from older animals with a drug that increased histone acetylation, they were able to restore BDNF production and synaptic plasticity to levels found in younger animals.

"These findings shed light on why synapses become less efficient and more vulnerable to impairment during aging," said Xie, who led the study. "Such knowledge could help develop new drugs for cognitive aging and aging-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease," she added.

The researchers also found that treating the hippocampal tissue from older animals with a different drug that activates a BDNF receptor also reversed the synaptic plasticity deficit in the older rats. Because histone acetylation is important in many functions throughout the body, these findings offer a potential pathway to treat aging-related synaptic plasticity deficits without interfering with histone acetylation.

"It appears that lifelong shifts in gene regulation steadily deprive the brain of a key growth factor and cause a collapse of the 'machinery' supporting memory, cognition, and the viability of neurons," said Gary Lynch, PhD, a synaptic plasticity expert at the University of California, Irvine. "The very good news suggested by this study is that it may be possible to reverse these effects."

Explore further: A little exercise may protect the aging brain from memory loss following infection

More information: www.jneurosci.org/

Related Stories

A little exercise may protect the aging brain from memory loss following infection

August 9, 2011
A small amount of exercise shields older animals from memory loss following a bacterial infection, according to a study in the August 10 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest moderate exercise may lead ...

Researchers show reduced ability of the aging brain to respond to experience

May 24, 2011
Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have published new data on why the aging brain is less resilient and less capable of learning from life experiences. The findings provide further insight into the cognitive decline ...

Recommended for you

Therapeutic antibodies protected nerve–muscle connections in a mouse model of Lou Gehrig's disease

February 20, 2018
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, causes lethal respiratory paralysis within several years of diagnosis. There are no effective treatments to slow or halt this devastating disease. Mouse ...

Brain liquefaction after stroke is toxic to surviving brain: study

February 20, 2018
Scientists have known for years that the brain liquefies after a stroke. If cut off from blood and oxygen for a long enough period, a portion of the brain will die, slowly morphing from a hard, rubbery substance into liquid ...

Brain immune system is key to recovery from motor neuron degeneration

February 20, 2018
The selective demise of motor neurons is the hallmark of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Yet neurologists have suspected there are other types of brain cells involved in the progression ...

Brain aging may begin earlier than expected

February 20, 2018
Physicists have devised a new method of investigating brain function, opening a new frontier in the diagnoses of neurodegenerative and ageing related diseases.

Every experience that the brain perceives is unique

February 20, 2018
Neuronal activity in the prefrontal cortex represents every experience as "novel." The neurons adapt their activity accordingly, even if the new experience is very similar to a previous one. That is the main finding of a ...

Electrical implant reduces 'invisible' symptoms of man's spinal cord injury

February 19, 2018
An experimental treatment that sends electrical currents through the spinal cord has improved "invisible" yet debilitating side effects for a B.C. man with a spinal cord injury.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.