A team of researchers based at Princeton University have identified the genes that are believed to play an important part in age-related cognitive decline. The identification of these genes, which were found in the neurons of adult roundworms, could prove important for developing future therapies for extending life, and enhancing health in the elderly human population.
In addition to having the ability to repair neurons which have been damaged, these genes are also believed to regulate enhanced short-term memory. These two factors are vitally important for healthy aging. Coleen Murphy, senior author of the study, explained that this research is the first step to gaining a greater understanding of how human neurons decline as we get older.
The research involved small, soil-dwelling roundworms that contain the genes responsible for determining the rate of aging and overall health during the aging process. If the worms have a mutation in one these specific genetic pathways, the lifespan of the worm can be doubled. Similar mutations are also apparent in humans who live way beyond the normal lifespan.
The research team were able to develop a new technique to isolate the neurons in the worms.
While the research proved difficult, due to the neurons in the worms being protected by a thick covering, the team were able to develop a new technique to break through this, and isolate the neurons. Previous studies have not been able to get past this outer covering. The ability to isolate the neurons in this way allowed the team to further explore the reasons why these mutations enable memory and the regeneration of neurons during the aging process. By isolating the neurons from the adult worm, the team were able to profile the gene activity in the adult roundworms, thus discovering that the mutant worms have genes that enable the neurons to work for longer. Furthermore, their research has implications for finding treatments for traumatic brain injuries in humans as they found a new factor that results in the adult worms regenerating their nerve cells.
Further research is now being carried out in order to gain a greater understanding of how the genes affect memory, axon regeneration and lifespan, and while the team have already discovered a great deal about how this specific mutation can promote healthy aging, it’s likely that they will discover more.
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