Why do people learn less as they get older? It could be that higher levels a gene called Nogo Receptor 1 reduce formation of synaptic connections. The blocking of Nogo Receptor 1 made old mouse brains recover from brain injury as rapidly as adolescent mice.
The flip of a single molecular switch helps create the mature neuronal connections that allow the brain to bridge the gap between adolescent impressionability and adult stability. Now Yale School of Medicine researchers have reversed the process, recreating a youthful brain that facilitated both learning and healing in the adult mouse.
Brain rejuvenation won't be as easy as suppressing one gene. Lots of things go wrong in brain cells (and all cells) as we age. But it seems possible that development of drugs targeted at key brain genes could boost the performance of older minds. I am also hoping for the development of gene therapies that will restore the mitochondria that are the energy generators of cells.
By monitoring the synapses in living mice over weeks and months, Yale researchers have identified the key genetic switch for brain maturation a study released March 6 in the journal Neuron. The Nogo Receptor 1 gene is required to suppress high levels of plasticity in the adolescent brain and create the relatively quiescent levels of plasticity in adulthood. In mice without this gene, juvenile levels of brain plasticity persist throughout adulthood. When researchers blocked the function of this gene in old mice, they reset the old brain to adolescent levels of plasticity.
The ability to inhibit Nogo Receptor 1 could provide great benefit for stroke victims.
Rehabilitation after brain injuries like strokes requires that patients re-learn tasks such as moving a hand. Researchers found that adult mice lacking Nogo Receptor recovered from injury as quickly as adolescent mice and mastered new, complex motor tasks more quickly than adults with the receptor.
We are approaching the era when cells become very manipulable. The many genes and their functions are being identified orders of magnitude faster than they used to be. In 20 years time major feats of tissue engineering, gene therapy, and cell therapy will be commonplace. Our bodies will become far more moldable and repairable. I just want it to happen sooner. As Glenn Reynolds likes to say: Faster please!
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2013 March 07 09:50 PM|