April 24, 2017

Could Young Blood Boost the Aging Brain?

21 April 2017, 12:53 | Winifred Adams

Protein isolated from human cord blood has antiaging effects on memory in mice

Brain gains seen in elderly mice injected with human umbilical cord plasma

Researchers at Stanford University found that injecting mice with a protein found in human umbilical cord blood can improve their memory, though not everyone is as positive about the results.

The findings suggest that something in young blood is important in maintaining mental acuity. These experiments generally showed a benefit for the older mice, but there may be other reasons besides blood-swapping-like sharing organs-that could explain why this would provide a boost to the elderly animal.

No one, however, is saying that cord blood could be a magic bullet against Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. He's an instructor in neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"We were, first of all, surprised and excited that there was something in human plasma, and more specifically there's something exciting about cord plasma", he says. Wyss-Coray and Castellano have ties to the company Alkahest, which is involved with the clinical trial and therapies to counter aging. Mice injected with human cord plasma also more quickly learned a task in a maze compared to mice injected with saline.

Like in humans, cognitive function deterioration and hippocampus degeneration were observed in older mice at the beginning of the study.

If you're an able-bodied senior citizen and can't remember the last time you exercised, Dr. Jon LaPook says it may be time to jog your memory. A ... While it might sound like the premise of a horror movie, there's no need to worry: no infants were harmed in the research, as the blood was collected from their umbilical cords. Plasma from young adults had less of an impact. Mice who received old plasma did the worst-about the same as mice who had no intervention. "It's possible that in the brain the levels are actually high and they decline much slower", Wyss-Coray said.

Castellano and his colleagues believe that the effects come from a protein found in plasma.

"It's regulating a lot of different biological processes". His group plans to investigate whether other proteins are involved, as well as how TIMP2 exerts its influence.

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One protein, called tissue inhibitor of metalloproteases 2 (TIMP2), was identified that enhanced nerve-cell activity in the brain in a laboratory experiment. "Having taken that on on board, this is a really interesting way to understand how we might help people who are aged or in the early stages of the disease", he said.

Wyss-Coray began gauging plasma-protein levels in humans and mice from varying age groups to see which proteins the species share and whose levels change similarly with age. Some c-Fos protein was seen in elderly brains that received plasma from young adults (middle right).

He agreed that the study identifies a protein "target" that should be studied further.

The team hopes to turn this into a cure for people with memory and learning impairments, essentially reversing the aging process of the mind. "But after cord plasma treatment, both the time [it took to] find it, the rate at which they'd find it and the fact that they do find it was improved and changing".

The researchers' search for antiaging factors did not point to another protein, GDF11, which some scientists have reported stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and neural stem cells in the brain. Findings in lab animals often fail to pan out in humans. The animals even started building nests, something older mice lose interest in.

They placed the mice in a maze, which consisted of a table filled with holes that would either lead them to a snuggly den or a jarring fall (it wouldn't be enough to hurt them).

"What this could mean for human disease is purely speculative", Gordon said.

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