Year 1Aging is accompanied by a decline in the number and the function of adult stem cells in several tissues. In the brain, the depletion of adult neural stem cells (NSC) may underlie impaired cognitive performance associated with aging. Discovering the factors that govern the maintenance of adult NSC during aging should allow us to harness their regenerative potential for therapeutic purposes during normal aging and age-related neurodegenerative disorders. We have recently found that two 'longevity genes', Foxo3 and Sirt1, are critical for adult NSC function. In the past year, we have published a manuscript showing that Foxo3 is necessary for the maintenance of NSC in the adult brain. We have also started to explore the critical mechanisms by which Foxo3 maintains adult neural stem cells in the brain. We have used ultra-high throughput sequencing approach to reveal that Foxo3 is recruited to the regulatory regions of 3,000 genes in the adult neural stem cells, thereby triggering a gene expression network that regulates both the ability of neural stem cells to divide and their ability to give rise to progeny. Finally, we have obtained new results in the past year, showing that Sirt1, another 'longevity gene' is critical for the proper function of neural stem cells in the adult brain, and their ability to give rise to differentiated cells. Together, our results will help understand the regulation of neural stem cell maintenance in aging individuals and will provide new avenues to preserve the pool of these cells in the brain. Modulating longevity genes to harness the regenerative power of stem cells will provide new avenues for stem cell therapeutics for neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, most of which are age-dependent.
Year 2The adult brain contains pools of stem cells called neural stem cells that are critical for
the formation of new neurons in the adult brain. During aging, the number of neural stem
cells and their ability to give rise to new neurons strikingly decline. This decline could
underlie at least in part memory deterioration that occurs during aging and age-related
neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease. We have been interested over
the years in the importance of genes that regulate overall longevity in the control of the
pool of neural stem cells. We made the important discovery that Foxo3, a gene that has
been implicated in human exceptional longevity, is necessary for preserving the neural
stem cell pool. In the past year, we have made extensive progress in characterizing the
ensemble of genes regulated by Foxo3 in adult neural stem cells, a key step in
unraveling the mechanisms by which neural stem cells are maintained intact. In the past
year, we have observed that in the absence of another gene important for longevity
Sirt1, there is an unexpected increase in oligodendrocyte progenitors, which are cells
that are important for myelination of neurons, which is important for the proper
propagation of the neuronal information. Defects in myelination, which happen for
example in multiple sclerosis, have devastating consequences on the neurological
function. In the past year, we have made progress to understand the cellular and
molecular mechanism of action that enhances the production of oligodendrocytes in the
absence of Sirt1. Finally, we have made progress in initiating a project in human stem
cells that can be reprogrammed from adult cells, to extend our findings from mice to
humans, in particular as it relates to human diseases that have an age-dependent
Year 3The number and function of adult stem cells decrease with age in a number of tissues. In the nervous system, the depletion of functional adult neural stem cells (NSC) may be responsible for impaired cognitive performance associated with normal or pathological aging. Understanding the factors that govern the maintenance of adult NSC should provide insights into their regenerative potential and open new avenues to use these cells for therapeutic purposes during normal aging and age-related neurodegenerative disorders.
Clues to key regulators of stem cell functions may come from studies of the genetics of aging, as genes that regulate longevity may do so by maintaining stem cells. To date, the most compelling examples for genes that control aging in a variety of organisms include the insulin-Akt-Foxo transcription factor pathway and the Sirt deacetylases. We have recently found that Foxo3 regulates a network of genes in adult NSC and interact with another transcription factor, called Ascl1, to preserve the integrity of the NSC pool and prevent the premature exhaustion of this important pool of cells. In the past year, we have also made the surprising discovery that inactivating Sirt1 in adult neural stem cells leads to the increased production of oligodendrocyte progenitors, which are cells that are crucial for myelination and could help demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, or demyeliating injuries such as spinal cord injuries. Importantly, the enzymatic activity of Sirt1 can be targeted by small molecules, underscoring the potential for Sirt1 as a therapeutic target in stem cell and oligodendrocyte production. In the last year, we have also made significant progress in using cellular reprogramming to investigate the role of longevity genes in human cells. Our work examines the mechanisms by which ‘longevity genes’ regulate stem cell function and maintenance. Harnessing the regenerative power of stem cells by acting on longevity genes will provide a novel angle to identify stem cell therapeutics for regenerative medicine.
Year 4The adult brain contains reservoirs of neural stem cells that are critical for the formation of new neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes in the adult brain. During aging, the number of neural stem cells and their ability to give rise to new neurons strikingly decline. This decline could underlie at least in part the decline in memory that occurs during aging. We are interested in the importance of genes that regulate organismal longevity in the control of the reservoir of neural stem cells. We discovered that Foxo3, a transcription factor that has been implicated in human exceptional longevity, is important for regulating the neural stem cell pool pool. In the past year, we have made extensive progress in characterizing the interaction between Foxo3 and specific chromatin states at target genes in adult neural stem cells, which provides us with a mechanistic view onto how longevity genes can affect specific networks of target genes in neural stem cells in adult organisms. In the past year, we have made significant progress in testing the role of a gene involved in healthspan and longevity in a number of organisms, the deacetylase Sirt1, in adult neural stem cell function. We have observed that Sirt1 inactivation, whether genetic or pharmacological, leads to an increase in oligodendrocyte progenitors, which are cells that are important for myelination of axons. We have found that Sirt1 inactivation is beneficial for models of demyelinating injuries and diseases, which has important consequences for multiple sclerosis. Finally, we are making progress in reprogramming adult human fibroblasts into induced pluripotent stem cells and induced NSCs, with the aim to test the importance of longevity genes in this process.