Year 3

Cognitive function in humans declines in essentially all domains starting around age 50-60 and neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease seems to be inevitable in all but a few who survive to very old age. Mice with a fraction of the human lifespan show similar cognitive deterioration indicating that specific biological processes rather than time alone are responsible for brain aging. While age-related cognitive dysfunction and dementia in humans are clearly distinct entities the aging brain shows the telltale molecular and cellular changes that characterize most neurodegenerative diseases including synaptic loss, dysfunctional autophagy, increased inflammation, and protein aggregation. Remarkably, the aging brain remains plastic and exercise or dietary changes can increase cognitive function in humans and animals. Using heterochronic parabiosis or systemic application of plasma we showed recently that blood-borne factors present in the systemic milieu can rejuvenate brains of old mice. Accordingly, exposing an old mouse to a young systemic environment or to plasma from young mice increased neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and improved contextual fear conditioning and spatial learning and memory. Unbiased genome-wide transcriptome studies from our lab show that hippocampi from old “rejuvenated” mice display increased expression of a synaptic plasticity network which includes increases in c-fos, egr-1, and several ion channels. In our most recent studies, plasma from young but not old humans reduced neuroinflammation in brains of immunodeficient mice (these mice allow us to avoid an immune response against human plasma). Together, these studies lend strong support to the existence of factors with beneficial, “rejuvenating” activity in young plasma and they offer the opportunity to try to identify such factors.