Scientists discover how brain cells age
September 13, 2012
Experts previously identified the molecular pathway that reacts to cell damage and stems the cell’s ability to divide, known as cell senescence. However, in cells that do not have this ability to divide, such as neurons in the brain and elsewhere, little was understood of the aging process.
Now scientists at Newcastle University, led by Professor Thomas von Zglinicki, have shown that neurons in fact follow the same pathway as senescing fibroblasts, the cells that divide in the skin to repair wounds.
This challenges previous assumptions on cell senescence and opens new areas to explore in terms of treatments for conditions such as dementia, motor neuron disease (ALS), and age-related hearing loss.
Working with the University’s special colony of aged mice, the scientists have discovered that aging in neurons follows exactly the same rules as in skin cells and other cells.
DNA damage responses essentially reprogram senescent fibroblasts to produce and secrete a host of dangerous substances including reactive oxygen species (ROS — a type of free radical) and pro-inflammatory signalling molecules. These substances can damage intact cells in their neighborhood.
“We will now need to find out whether the same mechanisms we detected in mouse brains are also associated with brain aging and cognitive loss in humans,” said von Zglinicki, professor of Cellular Gerontology at Newcastle University. We might have opened up a shortcut towards understanding brain aging, should that be the case.”
- Diana Jurk, Chunfang Wang, Satomi Miwa, Mandy Maddick, Viktor Korolchuk, Avgi Tsolou, Efstathios S. Gonos, Christopher Thrasivoulou, M. Jill Saffrey, Kerry Cameron, Thomas von Zglinicki, Postmitotic neurons develop a p21-dependent senescence-like phenotype driven by a DNA damage response, Aging Cell, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1474-9726.2012.00870.x