In a stunning piece of research, Stanford neuroscientists have hunted down a single gene that encodes a protein responsible for age-related cognitive losses, targeted it with special blocking antibodies, and shown in mice that these antibodies can rejuvenate old brains to work as well as young ones.
It all starts with the microglia, a class of brain cells responsible for immune responses and routine cleanup. Among many other functions, microglia spend their time gobbling up bits of protein deposits and cellular debris that result from normal brain activity, and it’s long been known that their garbage-collecting performance deteriorates with age.
Tony Wyss-Coray, Ph.D, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, thought it was a “decent bet” that the decline in microglial cleanup performance might be linked to the kinds of cognitive declines we see with aging. Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, for example, are linked with abnormal activation patterns for genes associated with the microglia.