Breakthrough

Scientists Discover a Brain Region That Controls Aging


Scientists Discover a Brain Region That Controls Aging

Photograph by Getty Images

Turns out that the elusive Fountain of Youth may exist after all … in our heads.

Scientists at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine say they’ve discovered a brain region that may control aging throughout the entire body. By manipulating that region, they were able to extend the lives of mice by 20 percent. The finding, detailed in a paper published in Nature on May 1, may lead to new ways of warding off age-related diseases and increasing life spans.

The hypothalamus, an almond-size area of the brain, controls growth, reproduction, and metabolism but also initiates aging, according to the study. Dongsheng Cai, a physiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, together with colleagues, realized this by tracking NF-κB, a molecule that controls DNA transcription and is involved in inflammation and the bodily response to stress. They found that in mice, NF-κB becomes more active in the hypothalamus with age.

Mice that were injected with a substance that inhibits NF-κB’s activity lived longer—up to 20 percent longer—while those injected with a substance that stimulated the molecule died earlier.

What’s more, the inhibitor seems to block the lamentable physical decline that occurs with age. Six months after the initial experiment, mice that had been injected with inhibitors performed better than controls on cognition and movement tests. “They also showed less age-related decline in muscle strength, skin thickness, bone mass, and tail-tendon integrity,” according to an article in Nature.

Blocking NF-κB had similar effects on male and female mice and produced anti-aging effects even in middle-aged mice.

David Sinclair, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, called the study, “a major breakthrough in aging research.” He says it will likely benefit research into age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and arthritis.

Cwinter
Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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