Zurich – Neuroscientists have discovered a mechanism that is partly responsible for the decrease in memory performance brought about by old age. They have also shown how nerve cell generation can be reactivated, which could benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease, for instance.

Stem cells in the mouse hippocampus (in blue): With increasing age, their ability to form new neurons decreases as the amount of the nuclear protein lamin B1 (in red) drops. (Image: Khadeesh bin Imtiaz, UZH)
Stem cells in the mouse hippocampus (in blue): With increasing age, their ability to form new neurons decreases as the amount of the nuclear protein lamin B1 (in red) drops. (Image: Khadeesh bin Imtiaz, UZH)

 

A group of researchers led by Sebastian Jessberger, Professor of the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich (UZH), have discovered why memory performance declines in old age. Khadeesh bin Imtiaz, doctoral candidate and first author of the corresponding study, is quoted in a press release from the UZH explaining: “As we get older, stem cells throughout the body gradually lose their ability to proliferate. Using genetic engineering and cutting-edge microscope technology, we were able to identify a mechanism that is associated with this process.”

The team identified the fall in the amount of the nuclear protein lamin-B1 as the reason for the decreasing ability to remember things with age. The less lamin-B1 available, the lower the number of new nerve cells that are created. The team was also able to reverse this process: they ran an experiment increasing the amount of this nuclear protein in aging mice. Upon doing so, more new nerve cells were formed again.

The study was limited to neural stem cells, but the researchers anticipate that similar mechanisms occur with stem cells throughout the entire body.

Jessberger states: “We now know that we can reactivate aging stem cells in the brain. Our hope is that these findings will one day help increase levels of neurogenesis, for example in older people or those suffering from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Even if this may still be many years in the future.”

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